The human brain has a hard time grasping and retaining certain kinds of information. Terminology is especially hard, which is why you will notice that my **Usual Math Suspects List** comprises mostly math words and the procedures these words are meant to trigger.

Parents need to realize that it’s not big numbers or daunting theories, but these “little details” that trip kids up and prevent them from being good math students.

So, if you’d like to give your child a meaningful math boost, keep quizzing her on the following concepts until they sink in for good. (Some parents are keeping flash cards in the car for flipping en route to school; a great idea!)

Making sense of numbers and getting comfortable with them has huge pay-offs, not just for schoolwork, but throughout life!

**#4 Perpendicular lines cross at right angles.**

Many students think that “perpendicular” just means “intersect,” but lines can intersect (cross) without necessarily being perpendicular.

Perpendicular = right angles = 90 degree angles

**#5 The word of means multiply.**

Word problems often use the word “of” to imply multiplying by fractions or percents.

What is 1/3 of 60? 1/3 x 60 = 20

What is 40% of 80? 40% x 80 = 32

**#6 ****To multiply by a fraction, divide by its reciprocal.**

Students often give blank looks when asked *What is 1/3 of 60? *

*1/3 of 60* is the same as *60 divided by 3*. The answer is 20.

Practice some of these over breakfast or on the drive to school:

What is 1/4 of 40? (40 divided by 4) = 10

What is 1/2 of 82? (82 divided by 2) = 41

What is 1/5 of 45? (45 divided by 5) = 9

Make up your own examples, and practice a little at a time until your child is fluent.

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]]>The key to getting all these rules and procedures straight is to keep looping back and practicing the material, over and over.

Here’s a GREAT study habit: **Always finish your homework with an extra little helping of math “for dessert.”**

- Go back to your math homework from a few days ago, and re-do one problem.
- It’s most helpful to choose a problem that was challenging or confusing.
- Re-work the problem on paper, and don’t peek at the solution unless you have to.
- Tomorrow, choose another old problem to re-work. Select problems that are beginning to go fuzzy in your memory.

This habit will constantly refresh and strengthen your math learning, and eventually that knowledge will stick for good.

Math Dessert is an excellent long-term habit…it’s a pain at first, but it will make studying so much easier and boost your test scores now and throughout high school, college and beyond!

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]]>But it turns out that “interleaving” all sorts of math material produces better retention than practicing only one kind of problem at a time. Making the brain work harder causes it to learn more!

One excellent form of interleaving is to go back every day and re-do an old homework problem from a few days ago. This practice will refresh and strengthen what had been learned. It’s most helpful to choose a problem that was challenging or confusing.

Help your student build this excellent long-term habit of doing tonight’s homework and then taking just a few extra minutes to revisit one older problem “for dessert” (eww, *yucky* dessert!)…it’s a pain at first, but it will make studying so much easier and boost test scores now and throughout high school, college and beyond!

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Commonly, kids study “until they feel good about the material,” but, unfortunately, this gut feeling can be terribly inaccurate, especially among novice learners.

Besides, as students study they become fatigued, willpower fades, and wishful thinking / rationalization begins to creep in, making them “sure” that they are prepared…when they are not.

Checklists can keep studiers on track towards doing everything they need to do.

Here’s an example; my **Math Test Preparation Checklist**, which I encourage you to print and try with your child.

Checklists are not only powerful tools for academic success. Checklists can teach students important life lessons and help them develop healthy habits and attitudes.

**Checklists reduce anxiety**by making the process look manageable and giving students a sense of control.**Checklists take the mystery out**of academic success. Students learn that the secret to better grades isn’t luck or genius; it’s step-by-step preparation.**Checklists help teach time management**by laying out the process visually, so that students can better grasp the amount of time required.**Checklists support the development of**, the ability to plan and organize.*executive function***Checklists are motivating.**Crossing items off a checklist gives a satisfying feeling of accomplishment which helps build good study habits.**Checklists foster autonomy.**Students rapidly learn to follow the steps on their own.**Checklists reduce parent-child conflict!**It’s the checklist’s job to tell students what to do next, thus taking the burden off Mom or Dad’s shoulders. Parents can easily verify that students are doing the work, because everything is in writing.

In ** The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right**, Dr. Atul Gawande explains that checklists are essential tools for coping with the complexity of modern life. Checklists are now being used by surgeons, builders, engineers and airline pilots to reduce errors and free up mental space for important, even life-threatening decisions.

In 2009, when both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 failed, co-pilots Sullenberger and Skiles immediately grabbed their emergency checklists and began following the steps; they managed to ditch the plane in the Hudson River without losing a single life.

Your child will likely be using checklists in her career. Why not start him on the Checklist Habit now, to *Get Things Right *academically?

*“Discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking in between meals. We are not built for discipline. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.” *

*The Checklist Manifesto, *page 183

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I hope parents will find it reassuring to know that it’s not just their kid who can’t seem to retain certain math facts. Students from middle school all the way up through 12th grade have trouble making some fundamental math ideas stick.

But parents also need to to realize that it’s these “little details” which trip kids up in big ways and prevent them from being great math students. Indeed, most calculus students who drop out, do so not because they find the calculus itself hard, but because their math foundations are weak.

Here are three concepts that bear repeating to your middle school or high school child. Some parents are keeping flash cards in the car for flipping en route to school; a great idea! (Meanwhile, I’ll keep collecting more Usual Suspects and publishing them throughout the school year).

1.** What does product mean?**

*Product is the answer you get when you multiply. *

Ex: 6 is the product of 2 and 3.(Many students confuse product with sum; the sum is what you get when you add. The sum of 2 and 3 is 5).

2. **How do you write a subtraction expression**, such as *six less than x*?

Be careful when you write subtraction expressions, because often you need to write them “backwards.”

Ex:** Six less than x** is

It may help to first think about a purely numerical example:* How would you write 2 less than 10*? You would write

**3. When you add or subtract fractions, you first need to have common denominators.**

I often catch 12th graders still writing 1/2 + 1/3 = 2/5 (Gak!!)

Unfortunately, you can’t just add the numerators and add the denominators.

Instead, you first need to change 1/2 into 3/6, and 1/3 into 2/6.

Then, how many sixths do you have? 3/6 + 2/6 = 5/6.

So, 1/2 + 1/3 = 5/6.

If anyone in your family needs a more thorough refresher on common denominators, try this very helpful Khan Academy video:

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It’s also important for students to use their test results to help them learn to plan and prepare better in the future. *Did my study methods work well for me? Should I change some of my tactics? Maybe I should begin studying earlier.*

I’m always looking for ways to wrap executive function lessons into my tutoring, and I’ve created a tool to help students think about and refine the methods they use to study for math tests.

I’ll be using this Math Test Round-Up with my tutoring students this school year, and I encourage you to print out copies to use and share. Let me know how it’s working for you and your child!

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Here’s how to start the school year out with strong math scores:

**How to Prepare for a Math Test**

**Start studying at least three days before the test.**Begin early and do some studying each day. The time in-between study sessions allows your brain to think and absorb. You’ll wind up needing less total study time, you’ll do better, and you’ll avoid a ton of anxiety.**Learn all the vocabulary and concepts**. Go through your class notes and your textbook (even if your teacher doesn’t use it!), and put each vocab term and important concept on separate index cards or Quizlet. Then practice repeatedly (several times per day) until you’ve got them mastered.**Re-do difficult homework and quiz problems**. Go through your quizzes and homework and highlight the problems you found difficult. Then, rework each problem on fresh paper, peeking at the steps only when necessary. Keep redoing these problems until you can do them perfectly, all by yourself. (It’s extremely important to re-work hard problems with pencil and paper, NOT to merely look them over).**Meet with your teacher if you need help.**And don’t wait until the morning of the test; get help ASAP!- Do ALL the
**review exercises**suggested by your teacher. Don’t skip the easy ones; doing easy problems helps you build fluency and confidence. **Do some extra practice,**above and beyond what your teacher assigned. First, do the chapter review in the text, and**check your answers**, and if you made mistakes, figure out what you did wrong and then redo the problem,*in writing!*- Khan Academy, Varsity Tutors, and IXL are also great sources for more practice problems.
**Important note:**Extra practice is useless without an answer key or an auto-scoring system like those found on these online programs; you DO NOT want to do tons of extra problems incorrectly!

Studying thoroughly for a math test may seem like a lot of work, but you’ll be thrilled at how good it feels to be well-prepared and confident…and wait until you see your great test scores!

Doing tasks with diligence and care, in school and in life, not only produces better results but boosts self-esteem. **Doing high-quality work is one of the best ways to feel good about yourself.**

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]]>Now remember, this is *Jerry Seinfeld!* He could buy every kind of fancy technology or he could hire a personal assistant to keep tabs on him, but, instead, he prefers…a wall calendar!

At the beginning of every new year, Jerry Seinfeld goes out and buys a big paper calendar (the kind that shows the whole year and is about as big as the back of a door) and a red marker. Then, every day, after he puts in his writing time, he makes a big red X on that day.

After a while, the marked-off days look like a beautiful chain of progress and accomplishment, and he starts thinking to himself ** Don’t break the chain!** Being able to see his hard work right there on the wall motivates Seinfeld to keep writing every day.

Read Seinfeld’s simple productivity method, then set up your own calendar to keep satisfying track of your daily practice. This system works great for:

- standardized test practice
- musical instruments
- multiplication facts
- vocabulary lists
- homework completion
- …anything you need to do every day!

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]]>Here’s one of the methods we use to train our students to home in on those subtle differences between answer choices:

- Turn to a reading passage in your practice book, read the passage, and do your best to answer all the questions. Select an answer for every question, working as hard as you can to choose correctly.
- Have someone else (parent, sibling, friend) score your work by putting a check next to every correct answer and an x next to every incorrect answer.
- This other person
*should not indicate the correct answers to the questions you missed!* - Go back, reread, and try your very best to locate the right answers.
- Work hard! Don’t give up easily! Reread the passage, and rethink each question and each answer choice.
- Look up all the words you don’t know to help you understand better.
- If you’re stumped on any question, try again tomorrow. Often your brain chews on material overnight.
- Have your grader score your new work.
- If you still missed some questions, look at the correct answers and read the explanations carefully. Work hard to understand why they are the best choices.
- Ask a parent, teacher, or tutor if you still don’t understand some questions.
- Now…try another fresh passage.
**Y****ou’ll keep improving the more you practice!**

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]]>The New SAT will first be given on March 5, 2016. Until then, the current version will be given.

All students should create a user name and password on the College Board site, to access all the free resources and receive important updates.

**Are you a senior as of this Fall?**

- Chances are, you’ve already taken the SAT once or twice as a junior. That version is still being given, through January, 2016.
- This means that seniors in Fall 2015 will not take the New SAT. They should continue to prep for the current version.
- The last test date for this version is January 23, 2016. It will also be given on Oct 3, Nov 7 and Dec 5, 2015.
- Seniors should use this review book.

**Are you a Junior as of this Fall?**

- Students who are juniors in Fall 2015 will take the New version of the PSAT in October, 2015. Try out the New PSAT with this official practice test.
- Juniors will then take the New SAT in the spring of 2016. (March 5, May 7, or June 4, 2016)
- The official Redesigned SAT review book is now available for juniors and anyone taking the SAT in March, 2016 or after.

All students should check these dates and register as soon as possible, to get the best choice of test centers.

Both versions of the SAT are challenging, and the key to doing well is to prepare consistently. Start now, even if you’re a junior!

- Sign up for the SAT Question of the Day.
- Find practice questions here.
- Use the free videos and practice materials on KhanAcademy.

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