Tutor Tips to Maximize the Rest of Summer
The dog days of July are hardly the time most teens want to think about next school year. As a self-proclaimed beach bum, I’m the last person who would burden a kid with boring worksheets to prevent summer slide. However, as a tutor, I know that a half-hour per day during the rest of summer can make next year less stressful – without sacrificing the fun that should be part of everyone’s summer! Here are a few midsummer grade-by-grade tips for high schoolers:
Students in my private tutoring practice and audiences at my “College Planning” talks already know my top tip for students of all ages: read, read, and read some more. But tweets and Instagram posts won’t cut it. Novels and book-length nonfiction require sustained attention. This same focus will eventually be tested by the SAT, ACT, and other long exams. Help your teen to build the “attention muscle” in her brain by getting her to read a book of at least 150 pages, for at least 15 minutes per day. If she’s unsure of where to start, Google “top books for teens” to find scores of librarian-recommended lists. I like the lists curated by the folks at the New York Public Library and Scholastic. Don’t worry so much about what your child is reading, though. It’s more important that she “just do it.”
In between Snapchatting and Robloxing, students entering ninth grade can spend fifteen more minutes a day between now and Labor Day building one of the most important skills they’ll need for high school and college: note taking. What should they take notes on? Well, that new novel or nonfiction book they’re reading, of course! Get your son a new journal or notebook just for this purpose. Ask him to record any unfamiliar words and their definitions at the back of the notebook. If he’s too distracted to use his phone to look the words up, hand him a dictionary as he hands you his phone. While the “new” SAT privileges arcane vocabulary much less than the old one, even my strongest students don’t know words that appear on the exam (like “ambivalent”).
At the front of the notebook, have him jot a few notes about what he reads after each chapter. If your teen needs some note-taking pointers, bring him to one of my public talks on this topic, or watch one of my YouTube videos on it. (If you feel that he might need a tutor, you can also email me at email@example.com about private lessons on note taking, study and organizational skills, and time management.) Don’t fret too much about whether he’s taking notes the “right” way. The key is that he’s building the habit of taking notes as or just after he reads, so that when September arrives, that habit will have become automatic.
Ninth grade represents a brutal transition for many teens. Many parents worry about the impact of low first-year grades on college admissions. However, admissions officers understand that freshman year can rock even the most unflappable fourteen-year-old. Ninth grade C’s and D’s won’t destroy her future as long as sophomore year grades rise. To make sure that happens, review her grades from last year, pinpoint one or two of the weakest links, and try something different during the next six weeks to fill those gaps.
If algebra was the biggest thorn in her side, for example, visit www.khanacademy.org, especially if she’s never tried watching Sal Khan’s amazingly clear videos. (If she kept her past exams, figure out which subjects gave her the most difficulty. Then, have her watch just those videos – and do the practice problems that follow!) If she had a tutor but still struggled, try a different tutor. (Not every tutor is right for every child. Of course, Crimson Coaching’s happy to work one-on-one with any child who needs help in any subject.) In short, use what’s left of summer to remediate gaps created by a tough freshman year so that your teen quickly finds her sophomore year footing in September.
Back in the Dark Ages when many of us applied to college, totally unprepared teens (like yours truly!) took the SAT once or twice during the spring of eleventh grade. You sent the score you received to the colleges that you hoped you could get into, and that was that. Fast forward to the Age of U4GDACOAC (Ubiquitous 4.0 GPAs, Dozens of AP Courses, and Olympian Athletic Careers), eleventh graders rarely have the time that serious test prep requires. This summer, I’ve worked as a tutor with more rising juniors than ever before as they plan to take the SAT in August or October of the eleventh grade.
It’s definitely not too late for your rising junior to start prepping, either with Crimson Coaching , online with Khan Academy’s free SAT Practice, or independently using a test prep guide book. I love the Princeton Review “Cracking the SAT” series for its easy-to-remember strategies and use it with the students that I tutor. Once your teen has learned a particular strategy there, have them* practice it on real SAT questions in the College Board’s collection of past exams.
For more about the SAT and ACT, visit and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I’ll be posting weekly test prep tips. Though the SAT and ACT loom large in juniors’ imaginations, with fifteen minutes of daily studying from now through Labor Day, they can lighten their fall load considerably.
Hopefully, your eleventh grader’s tests went well, so that they* can spend this summer focusing on college. Ideally, their college list will already be finalized, as that’s the only way to narrow down which supplemental essays (which vary from school to school) to write.** However, even if they’re still figuring out which universities will receive their stellar application, there’s still ways for your rising senior to get a jump on their Common Application.
The Common App has “refreshed,” which means that students applying to enter college in the Fall 2020 semester can register for an account and begin filling out their applications. Most students (and parents) underestimate the amount of time that entering just the personal, family, and demographic data takes. Since this information remains the same regardless of where they’re applying, have your teen start this process now, before school starts.
Most universities and colleges also accept the personal statement (i.e., the “Big Essay”) from the Common App, so your child can begin writing this now. (Not all schools use the Common Application, though, so the sooner your child can finalize their list, the sooner they’ll know just how many “big essays” they need to write.)
Easier said than done? Overwhelmed or creatively blocked teens can check out my entire (free!) online course on the Common App. Don’t worry that it’s from Summer 2018: the essay prompts have remained exactly the same from last year. And though each video originally appeared week-by-week (and was created to guide students and parents weekly from the Common App refresh on August 1 to the early admission / decision deadline of November 1), if your teen has time, they can definitely watch all the episodes now.
If they need “real time” guidance, feel free to register for my College Essay Bootcamp class this fall , or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call me (718-514-0387) for essay and application coaching any time. **Not only have I helped every student that I’ve coached (and who’s followed my advice) gain early acceptance into his top school, I’ve also saved them countless hours by helping to identify which supplemental essays could be safely “recycled” for other colleges with a minimum amount of tweaking!
Just like note-taking for freshmen, remediation for sophomores, and test prep for juniors, rising seniors’ daily, fifteen-minute bouts with the Common App during the remaining six weeks of summer will result in a happier, better-prepared, and less-stressed teen in September.
Until then, wishing you all a happy, fun, and healthy August!
How did this process go? For you? For your children? Please share your thoughts in the comments section of my blog(to receive the latest issue delivered straight to your inbox each Thursday, click here).
If YOU have a question that you would like answered and you’re unable to make it to a library talk or workshop, email me. I’ll be sure to respond and your concern might even make its way into future blog posts or my next Facebook Live Video. It’ll be like having your own tutor in your living room! Until then, see you on Facebookand Instagram!
*This section makes intentional use of the gender-neutral subject, possessive, and object pronouns “they,” “their” and “them” to represent a singular teen.