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A Secret Weapon for Acing the SAT, GMAT and other Tests

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By Vera Marie Reed and Bara Sapir One of TPNY’s secret weapons to help students slay standardized tests and get top scores is implementing mindfulness: a practice of moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist meditation, but has made a resurgence as a secular application in the American mainstream in recent years. This can be largely traced to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Kabat-Zinn’s program, launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, has sparked thousands of studies which have documented the physical and mental benefits attributed to mindfulness and the MBSR program. These techniques are also being implemented in schools, prisons, hospitals, and clinics around the country, and for TPNY, incorporating them means that our test takers have added focus and a sense of well-being while preparing for and taking tests. Kabat-Zinn asserts that mindfulness is related to meditation – or paying attention on purpose. In a presentation given to the Greater Good Science Center, he suggested that when we hear the word mindfulness, “You should understand that it means presence of heart.” Mindfulness is a process of focusing on the present versus…

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Top 6 Ways to Relieve Anxiety for Test Takers

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For many test takers, especially those who haven’t taken tests for a while, pre-test jitters can ensue, ensnare, and overwhelm to sabotage the test-taking moment.  This can happen whether someone studies with myopic rabid intensity or is engaged at a reasonable pace. Ask most people, and they have at one time or another been nervous, with statistics pointing to more than 12% being completely paralyzed by anxiety.  Obviously, this is not optimal.   If you’re feeling a little ill at ease, you can set yourself up for success by employing some simple but potent practices and life style choices, namely, engaging in self-care. There are different options available, and each will have varying outcomes for each test taker, but try these strategies in the weeks up to minutes leading up to your test. And be creative: if there is something else you find helps you to be the best test-taker: do it. What Helps Reduce Test Anxiety? Enough Sleep – for some people this is 6 hours; others, 10. Whatever length of time you need to perform your best, plan on getting it. Every night. Most important is that you get enough sleep the night-before, the night before the test….

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Keep Calm and Rock the Test

“Drop in”; Don’t “Plug in” – Getting in the Zone for Optimal Performace

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Much of my daily grind, I shuttle between emails, phone calls, and longer term projects that require me to hunker down for chunks of time. I’m the first to admit that there is an allure to my dips into Facebook, texts, fact checking, research, and emails; sometimes I go so far down into the rabbit hole that only after do I realize my attention has waned and I’ve deviated from my plan. I refocus, regroup, and begin again. It’s not too difficult; I’ve become a Jedi master of getting in the zone. I’ve literally spent 30 years, in some form or another, learning how, or practicing, as they say in the Bay Area, to “drop in.” Dropping in helps me achieve what’s required of me in my art, work, and relationships; working from a place of attention, focus, and sometimes perseverance, engages me through the process. When I not only resist the temptation to cave into ‘plugging into’ my social media or Facebook pursuits, I’m practicing skills that mirror good studying habits. In fact, these also are the best practices of being a successful test taker. I learned ‘dropping in’ through years in the art studio of my undergraduate education, and art classes…

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How to Become a Control Freak (In a Good Way)

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Confronted with doing something a little out of our comfort zone, many of us automatically provide a list of excuses preventing us from performing our best. Often this list is beyond our control. For example, a test taker might say, “I studied, but I’m just not good at tests,” or “I get so nervous I can’t concentrate,” or they know the material but went blank when starting the test. The list goes on. I came across a handy list by Ruben Chavez of ThinkGrowProsper.org, which is a good reminder that while there are many things out of our control, especially in a high stakes testing situation, there are many things we can, in fact, control. We can choose to be in control any time, even if the world around us is chaotic and disconcerting, as it often feels for a test taker! When we are able to choose feeling peaceful, grounded, and focused, the results are often the best for whatever we’re doing, whether it’s taking a test, managing a challenging conversation, or responding during a crisis. Choosing peace makes the situation more manageable, and we can attain more inner calm.   While Chavez’s list holds true for test takers, we’ve…

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What to Expect from the New SAT

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By Bara Sapir and Laila Kamaruddin Many students and parents are nervously questioning what to expect on the new SAT. It is a different test; there is no doubt about that, in style, structure (now four parts), timing (either 3 hours 20 minutes or 3 hours 50 minutes), scoring (now back to a 1600 scale), and no penalty for guessing. Students have little to fear if they go in as prepared as can be, knowing content, test taking strategy, and having a positive mindset. In our personal opinion, this new SAT is a better-structured test more akin to the ACT. As per the College Board website, this version “focuses more on knowledge, skills, and understandings that research has identified as important for college and career readiness and success.” Students have 4 distinct sections, rather than going back and forth between different sections and different ways of thinking. So while the test is longer, it takes pressure off students and allows them to focus on the skills for each section. Below is a breakdown of all 4 sections, and some strategies that will promote a student’s best preparation for the new SAT, this weekend and beyond. Essay Section: While this section is…

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Mindful Test Prep - Avoid Test Anxiety

Mindful Test Prep

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When you think about how much time is actually spent taking tests, they have a disproportionately large role in the course of a life. Each test prep company seeks to deliver a silver bullet to students — capitalizing on ‘strategizing’ and thinking smarter than the test, and providing the most upgraded content to keep and grow their market share of test takers. Test Prep is big business. Bloomberg’s Businessweek has reported that the number of test prep centers in the U.S. more than doubled to 11,000 from 1998 to 2012 and it has steadily become a multibillion-dollar market. This value has only increased while oversight has remained close to nil. The low entry requirements of this market has tempted many to become tutors, and in Manhattan just about every street has a shingle for test prep. I saw a flood of tutors in the early 2000’s enter the arena as people were losing their jobs and ‘tutoring’ seemed a safe and easy way to go. But even if you know math (beyond balancing one’s checkbook) and read Chaucer, that doesn’t mean you really ‘know’ what these tests are aiming for when they tether students to desks or in front of…

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inner child

You Aren’t Only Your Test Score

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I’ve been thinking about my inner child lately, and by extension, yours. This was prompted by a post that circulated on Facebook last week. The sentiment expressed that ‘you are more than your test score,’ written in earnest, and so beautifully, to a group of students, much younger than yourselves, and reiterated how and why I’m in the business of education, as CEO of a holistic/mindful test preparation company. And it compelled me to remind our students, and other test takers like yourself, that you’re more than the multi-digit score, but to get that best score, to choose a process of study and test taking where you feel confident, focused and diligent on your task; that of studying for your test. It’s a combined/integrated state like this that promotes an optimal state for acquiring and processing knowledge and skills. Yes. I am encouraging you to choose. Great scores and better performance are the symptoms and results of being in this mindset…as is better overall health. When you feel psychologically healthy, and have the kind of spaciousness of being in ‘the zone’, your best score has the possibility of becoming more of a reality. Just stay calm. We know. This is easier said than done. One…

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AAMC’s changes (or not) to New MCAT 2015 Critical Analysis

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If you’re getting ready for the MCAT, no doubt you’ve heard that the MCAT has just undergone a major overhaul. So what does that mean for the famously difficult Verbal Reasoning section — now reincarnated as Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills, or CARS? Should you study for it exactly the same way as for the old VR? Is there anything new to be aware of? Information is still a bit sketchy at this point, but we’ve looked at every clue the AAMC has given out, and here’s what we know and what we recommend. CARS is longer, but you get a little more time per question. It’s now 9 passages and 53 questions. You have 90 minutes to complete it, giving you a little more time per question than the old minute-and-a-half-per-question average. Passages will be 500-600 words long. It’s important to realize that not only is the CARS section longer, but it comes as part of an MCAT that is almost twice as long as the old MCAT. In other words, there’s more to do and there’s more likelihood that you’ll be fighting fatigue too. It’s more important than ever that you build up your stamina: give yourself marathon…

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Yoga for Your Mind, Blog-Style

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Welcome to Test Prep New York’s Yoga for your Mind blog. We understand that tests not only measure what you know or how well you know it; tests also measure how well you take tests. Our high-octane, fully loaded blog will give students, parents, teachers, and curious souls ingredients to excel in school and on upcoming tests. We will introduce you to powerful and easy techniques to optimize your test-taking potential by aligning yourself intellectually, emotionally and intuitively. We will include best methods for organization, perseverance and balance, plus a plethora of personal growth exercises designed to alleviate stress and enhance efficacy and confidence. Our advice includes suggestions to manifest your intention and spark momentum to accelerate your full learning potential. You’ll benefit from experts at the front line; from admissions consultants, tutors, psychologists, learning specialists, linguists, brainiacs, poets, educators, mystics, and a seer or two, who will provide suggestions for the most effective ways to think and be to help you become the you you’re meant to become. You might feel your boundaries stretched and challenged. Learning sometimes does this. It’s up to you to imagine what’s possible, to think big, and to lay claim to your greatness and…

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3 Tips to Reduce GMAT Test Anxiety (and any other)

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Tests measure not only what you know or how well you know it, tests also measure how well you take tests. For a majority of test takers, the mere thought of an upcoming exam can elicit anything from minor irritation or a feeling of fogginess on details, to a spasmodic explosion of dread and complete immobilization; picture a deer in headlights. If you have experienced any of these reactions, chances are you suffer from test anxiety. Anxiety stems from a variety of causes, but most commonly from a belief that we cannot fulfill our expectations. An estimated 30-35% of college students are handicapped by test anxiety. According to research published in the journals, Review of Educational Research, Contemporary Educational Psychology, and Educational Psychology, test anxiety can impede test performance by as much as 12 percentile points. For the GMAT, best results come from a comprehensive and aggressive study program integrated with holistic techniques to prepare you mentally, emotionally, and physically for the test. Performing at your optimum means knowing the material and feeling confident, calm, focused, and alert. Follow the three key tips below to draw on your mental, psychological, and intuitive strengths. By using these techniques, you will develop…

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