2019: New Year, (Slightly) New You

2019: New Year, (Slightly) New You

Whether you forget them by January 2nd or you’re in it for the long haul, New Year’s Resolutions are a great opportunity to take stock of who you are, who you’ve been, and who you want to become.

Think about what you’d actually like to address, not just the things you think you “should” be doing.

Below, you’ll find four resolution categories: self-care, physical health, academics, and relationships. For each four categories, you’ll find four resolutions. Your task is simple: pick one resolution per category. This should ensure a well-balanced, thoughtful entrance into the new year.

Self-Care:

  • Limit screen time
    • We all know the dangers of too much social media and too much time staring at our phones. Set some time limits, and you’ll be the happier for it! There are even some great apps to help you measure your time, such as Moment or ZenScreen.
  • Worry less about what others think.
    • Maybe this will be the year that you let yourself be you! Remember that your own approval is often what matters most.
  • Volunteer for a cause that resonates with you.
  • Try to let go of some of the regrets or grudges you may be holding.
    • We can all be really bad at this one, but if you’ve got axes you’ve been grinding all year, maybe it’s time to let those go. Easier said than done, but a great goal for the new year is practicing forgiveness for yourself and for those around you.

Physical Health:

  • Fitness
    • A little exercise can make a big difference for your peace of mind. Your body will thank you! There are plenty of free options out there, like going for a run, local community classes, and an endless number of apps that have expert teachers leading a variety of free exercises.
  • Sleep
    • No matter how much fun Red Dead Redemption 2 is, your body needs those sweet eight or nine hours. Be nice to yourself, be nice to your body, and get the rest you deserve (your gang will understand).
  • Water
    • Water! Health experts recommend 8-10 cups a days. Keeping yourself hydrated might be annoying or might feel like one more thing you have to remember, but it is a key part of staying healthy and keeping your body machine running smoothly
  • Limiting Coffee
    • If you’re up to the challenge, you’re a true champion.  Benefits include reduced anxiety and better sleep. Not convinced? Check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s article for the Huffington Post by clicking here.

Academics:

  • Start earlier on projects and papers.
    • Who doesn’t love procrastinating? But starting projects earlier means giving yourself more time to consider things carefully, more time to ask questions, a better shot at work you can truly be proud of, and not least, a break from the stress of scrambling at the last minute.
  • Start a study group.
    • This is one a bonus — friends and work! How do you beat that? Round up some of your peers and set aside time to get together and work. You’ll be amazed at how much easier studying can be with people around you to help.
  • Take a class in something outside your comfort zone.
    • Maybe you know nothing about astronomy but you’ve always been captivated by the night sky. Maybe you’re intimidated by French but have always longed to learn another language. This can be the year to go for it!
  • Ask for feedback from teachers, mentors, or family friends whose opinion you respect.
    • If you come across someone who inspires you or who is ahead of you in a particular path, ask for their guidance! It’s a change to learn some invaluable lessons. At the very least, they’ll be flattered, and you can have someone you respect in your corner.

Relationships:

  • Do nice things for others.
    • This seems simple, but it’s bigger than you might think. When’s the last time you called your grandparent? How about the last time you wrote a handwritten letter to an old friend? Doing small (but heartfelt) deeds goes a hell of a long way, and it’ll start to fill your life with sweetness.
  • Befriend someone you normally wouldn’t.
    • Have you always surrounded yourself with similar types of people? Consider breaking through that this year! It’s a chance to see the world in a new way and open up your life to new adventures and new ways of thinking.
  • End or address unhealthy relationships.
    • This is a big one. If there are relationships in your life where you’re not appreciated, respected, or things just aren’t working, maybe this is the year to stand up for yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean cutting someone out of your life completely (although, in extreme circumstances, it may be your only option) but it does mean speaking your mind, communicating honestly, and being strong. You can do it!
  • Practice respectful conversations with people you disagree with.
    • This may be the most timely resolution here. Practice having civil, non-judgmental conversations with people who have had different life experiences, who see the world through a different lens. And, not just on Facebook.

Listen to yourself. If something new you’re trying isn’t working or is making you miserable, change it! It doesn’t mean your weak or a failure.   By choosing four small resolutions (as opposed to multiple, major-life overhauls) you’ll still feel a big impact while enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that comes with commitment.

Best of luck out there! Go shine in 2019!

Being a Good Student Over the Holidays (While Not Ruining Your Break!)

Being a Good Student Over the Holidays (While Not Ruining Your Break!)

Winter break is that celebratory time that signals you’ve made it halfway through the school year. But in addition to being a wonderful time to relax, enjoy the holidays and be with your family, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to take stock of your wellbeing and check in with yourself.

To help you make the most of this vacation, we designed these five “RE”s as your guide: relax, recharge, reflect, reevaluate, and return. So, pull up a chair, grab a pen and paper, and pour yourself a mug of hot chocolate– here’s our re-commendations!

  • First and foremost — relax! If you just finished an entire semester’s worth of work and weeks of exams and papers, this is your opportunity to breathe. Don’t be afraid of letting your engine slow down a little bit. Spend time with family and friends. Make memories. Reach out to those you don’t see enough and try to get some nice one-on-one time with the people you care about.

 

  • Second — recharge! Get that good, good sleep. Do the things that you found yourself too busy to do during the school year. Is there a hobby that you’ve been neglecting? Also, don’t be afraid to be a little lazy, whether that might mean lounging around your home, playing video games, or binging the latest season of your favorite show. You’ve worked hard — don’t move too fast and forget to reward that.

 

  • Next — reflect and review. More than just finishing a semester — a full calendar year is coming to an end! Take this time to look back over everything that happened. Perhaps take a moment to write down everything you’re proud of. How many books did you read this year? What were some of your favorite memories? How are you doing in terms of goals?

 

  • Fourth — reevaluate. Are you still in love with all the things you were last year? What really stressed you out? What was harder than you thought it would be? Think about how to plan this coming year in a way that plays more to your strengths. And from the other side — what was easier than you anticipated this past year? Are you pushing yourself enough?

 

  • Fifth — Return. Yes, you’ll be returning in earnest when January comes. And each day of movies and lounging is a day closer to that return. Try to not live in denial of that. But there is another, less literal, return also. I’m speaking of a return to the material, and to your student self.

Follow these steps and we guarantee that when the last day of break rolls around, you’ll be ready to go back to school a happier and healthier you.

Happy holidays and happy New Year!   

How to Survive Failing a Test

How to Survive Failing a Test

You’re sitting in math class waiting for the bell to ring when your teacher begins to hand back tests from last week. You’re nervous, but it couldn’t have gone that poorly, right?

The teacher places your test on your desk, face down. You stare at it, trying to trace the outline of red pen that you can faintly see through the back of the paper. You flip your test over. In red pen, staring up at you, is the letter F and the words “See Me.” Gulp.

So what do you do now? What should any student in this situation do? Consider these five steps for moving forward.

  1. Don’t Panic!

Even though your body might feel like it’s dying, you’re going to be okay. Breath in and out at least ten times. Remember that everyone messes up sometimes.

  1. Figure Out Why!

After school, take your time and go through your answers. Remember that you failed for a reason.  Even though your grade might be your main focus, understanding why you failed is equally important. Think about what happened.

Ask yourself:

  • What specifically about this content was challenging?
  • Were you prepared–how much did you study?
  • Do you understand the material now or was it just a bad day?
    • If yes, what can you do to avoid a bad day impacting a test like this in the future?

Finally, go through your exam and see if you can pinpoint your problem areas. Make a list of all the concepts you’re shaky on. If this is hard to do alone, ask for help.

  1. Talk to Your Teacher!

Talking to your teacher can be the scariest part, but often ends up making you feel much better.  First, ask them about a time that will work for both of you for a private conversation. Do your best not to be defensive, although it can be helpful to share anything “behind-the-scenes” that they may not know about. Show them that you care about learning the material, not just getting a good grade, including the notes you took on your “problem areas.” If you are normally a strong student, your teacher probably knows that something is wrong. If the particular class is not your strong suit, use this as an opportunity to make a change and share your interest in improving in their class.

  1. Do the work!

This is both the most important step and the least fun one. You’ve got to do the work. If you and your teacher made some sort of deal, whether that’s extra credit or a retake of some kind, this is the time to do the work and impress. Prove to your teacher that they were right to give you an opportunity. If fixing your test grade isn’t an option, ask your teacher for some resources and extra copies of the test or of handouts that you can work to brush up on the material. Also, consider requesting extra support in advance of the next test. You can do it!

  1.  Keep it from happening again!

Now that you know what failing a test feels like, hopefully you’ll be better at preventing it from happening in the future.  If down the line you start slipping again or maybe there’s a concept or two that you didn’t understand, be proactive. Ask questions! It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or you’re behind, it means you’re being proactive about your education, and your teacher will appreciate how hard you’re trying.  Make a study plan well in advance of the next test, even if you’re comfortable with the topic.

It may not feel this way, but try to remember that studies show you actually gain a deeper understanding and retain more information when making and correcting mistakes than when you get everything completely right in the first place.*

The most important thing is to stop, realized what happened, and do your best to rectify the situation. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen, don’t shove it under your mattress and ignore it, don’t blame your teacher and move on.

If you ever feel really stuck, remember that there’s always someone to help, whether it be a friend, a family member, a teacher, or a tutor.  Your education is something to invest time, energy, and heart into — you’re worth it.

 

 

*https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_we_should_embrace_mistakes_in_school

How to Write Like Ernest Hemingway

How to Write Like Ernest Hemingway

Have you ever had an English teacher make any of the following comments on your paper?

  • “Unclear”
  • “Run-on sentence”
  • “Rephrase”

If so, chances are that your paper could be improved by sounding a bit more like Ernest Hemingway. His clear, economic language carries both beauty and efficiency, as you can read in the passage below

“In the morning I walked down the Boulevard to the rue Soufflot for coffee and brioche. It was a fine morning. The horse-chestnut trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom. There was the pleasant early-morning feeling of a hot day. I read the papers with the coffee and then smoked a cigarette. The flower-women were coming up from the market and arranging their daily stock. Students went by going up to the law school, or down to the Sorbonne. The Boulevard was busy with trams and people going to work.”

                                                                              – The Sun Also Rises

Luckily for you, there’s a powerful online tool that can help you clean up your prose. The Hemingway Editor is an online tool that will help you edit a text in pursuit of clean, clear writing in the style of the cherished American author.

So, how does the Hemingway tool work? It’s as simple as his prose. Take whatever text you are working on and copy and paste it into Hemingway. Your passage will be given a score on readability and an estimation on how long it will take on average to read. The Hemingway app will highlight different aspects of your text that need attention, and explain different ways to sharpen your work. Whether you need to simplify your writing, strengthen your prose, or shake up your literary style, Hemingway is here to help! Here are the issues that the app will help you overcome:

  1. The adverb. Hemingway will go through your text and highlight in blue any uses of adverbs, suggesting you keep them to a minimum. As we know from Schoolhouse Rock, adverbs are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. While it may appear odd to disavow an entire part of speech, adverbs can often be a symptom of weak writing. Why use an adverb when you can just use a stronger or more accurate verb? By drawing attention to the adverbs, Hemingway is going to help you reconsider your verb choices.
  2. Second is the unholiest of unholies and the bane of your English teacher’s existence: the passive voice. The passive voice is a grammatical voice where the subject appears passive in regards to the predicate, as opposed to actively carrying out the action. For example, “Our troops defeated the enemy” is active, while “The enemy was defeated by our troops” is passive. The passive voice with be highlighted green so you can strike it out and turn it active, just like Ernest would have.
  3. The last three tools will draw attention to sections of the text that are messy or lack clarity. Highlights in purple and yellow will address hard to read phrases and hard to read sentences, respectively. Just like your school teacher’s red pen, the red highlight is reserved for sentences that are particularly unclear or hard to read.

Here’s an example of the tool in action:

Billy closed the classroom door firmly, and there was an excruciatingly loud noise that prompted everyone to cover their ears. Billy was looked at by everyone with their menacing stares. 

Using the Hemingway tool suggestions, the paragraph could be rewritten as:

Billy slammed the classroom door. There was an excruciating noise that prompted everyone to cover their ears. Everyone looked at Billy with their menacing stares.

So give it a shot! Try this tool and before you know it, you’ll be putting the final touches on The Sun Also Rises 2. Just take it easy on the booze and the big game hunting.

The 2018 SHSAT Guide

The 2018 SHSAT Guide

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For 7th graders, spring is an exciting time of year filled with field trips, school dances, and fun academic projects and competitions.

But if you’re thinking about applying to one of New York City’s nine specialized High Schools in fall 2018, it’s also time to start thinking about the SHSAT.

Last summer, we shared some ways students can prepare for the test. Since then, there have been major changes to the test that all students planning to take the exam should know about.  

I Need a Refresher… What’s the SHSAT?

The SHSAT is the scholastic achievement examination used as the sole factor to determine admissions to New York City’s Specialized High Schools (with the exception of LaGuardia High School).

Who Takes the SHSAT, and When?

All current New York City residents in 8th grade or in 9th grade for the first time who plan to apply to one of the Specialized High Schools must take the SHSAT.

The SHSAT is administered in the fall (mid-October for 8th graders, mid-November for 9th graders) for admission to Specialized High Schools in the following school year (i.e., students seeking admission for September 2019 will take the test in fall 2018).

What’s “New” About the New SHSAT, anyway?

The fall 2018 Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) will have an updated test design.

  1. There are fewer multiple choice answer choices. All multiple choice items will have 4 answer choices instead of 5 answer choices.
  2. Some questions don’t count towards students’ scores. Each section of the 2018 SHSAT includes 10 items (of the 57 total) that are not counted in the student’s score but that are being tried out – or “field tested” – for possible use in future SHSAT tests. You will NOT know which items are scored and which are field test items, so you should try to answer all items in each section.
  3. It’s now 20% longer! The overall testing time has been increased to 180 minutes (from 150 minutes previously). 
  4. The section ordering is up to the student. Students may choose to complete either the English Language Arts or Mathematics section first.
  5. The Verbal Section is now the ELA Section. There have been changes to the Verbal/ELA Section (even from the 2017 test), which you can read about below.

What’s actually tested on the “New” SHSAT?

The SHSAT has two sections: English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS SECTION (57 QUESTIONS)

The English Language Arts (ELA) section consists of two parts:

  1. Revising/Editing. The Revising/Editing section may have up to 11 total questions. Revising/Editing items assess students’ ability to recognize and correct language errors and to improve the overall quality of a piece of writing.
  2. Reading Comprehension. There are up to 48 items in Reading Comprehension.
    Reading Comprehension requires students to read five or six passages, each of which is followed by up to ten questions assessing students’ ability to understand, analyze, and interpret what they have read.

MATHEMATICS SECTION (57 QUESTIONS)

The Mathematics section consists of word problems and computational questions with either a multiple-choice or grid-in answers. There are 5 grid-in Math items and 52 multiple-choice items. The Mathematics section asks students to solve word and computational problems involving addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Some word and computational problems will also include working with fractions, decimals, and statistics.

So, How Do I Prepare for the SHSAT?

If you’re thinking of applying for admission to a Specialized High School in 2019, the summer before 8th grade is the perfect time to get a head start on preparing for the fall exam.

To begin preparation, you can purchase an official SHSAT study guide. You can also consider getting a private tutor to help build familiarity with the question types and content of the exam.

If you’d like expert one-on-one help preparing for the exam, Smart Alec has dozens of excellent SHSAT tutors available throughout New York.

2018 Smart Alec Scholarship Winner Announced!

2018 Smart Alec Scholarship Winner Announced!

Smart Alec is very pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 Smart Alec Scholarship is Marlon Josiah Nario. As the winner of the 2018 Smart Alec Scholarship, Josiah will receive a $2000 scholarship and $2000 of private tutoring.

The Smart Alec Scholarship asked students to tell us about who inspired them (in any medium), and for his winning entry, Josiah submitted an audio essay J Dilla’s influence on music production and how he has inspired his own pieces.

You can listen to Josiah’s audio essay here.

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If you’d like to listen to more of Josiah’s original music, you can visit his SoundCloud page here.

The SAT vs The ACT: Which test is right for you?

The SAT vs The ACT: Which test is right for you?

“Should I take the SAT or the ACT?” It’s a question most college bound high schoolers will ask themselves at some point and for good reason. The tests are now equally accepted at the nation’s top universities and liberal arts colleges, so there’s no real advantage to taking one over the other (generally speaking).

In fact, the only real reason to take the SAT instead of the ACT or vice-versa, is that there’s a good chance that one or the other is a better fit for an individual student’s strengths, weaknesses and test-taking style. So how do you tell whether the SAT or ACT is a better fit for a particular student? Luckily, our test prep experts have designed a short diagnostic quiz that will do just that. 

By answering these 16 simple questions about how they perform in different conditions and their personal preferences, students can get a baseline understanding of which exam is right for them!

It takes less than 5 minutes and can save students months of prep time for the wrong exam. There are no wrong answers, so just be honest– happy quizzing! 

Results will be email to you at the address provided.
Please reach out to us at help@smartalec.com with any questions.