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Why Is Spelling So Hard?

Whether we like it or not, the ability to spell words correctly is quickly becoming an art form. As literacy rates in the U.S. continue to decline, spelling skills go with them. Not to mention, literacy and its definition have gone through many changes throughout the years. As literacy used to be defined, it simply referred to reading and writing. Anymore, literacy skills encompass all forms of communication from reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

Therefore, many educators are still catching up with the changes and focusing their literacy lessons on reading and writing skills (grammar)–which is not a bad thing. But the skill of spelling is often left behind as the focus on other aspects of literacy get the main stage. This is caused by a few different phenomena. 

Death of Drill and Kill

Direct instruction used to be the go-to method for educators to teach their students. Direct instruction means lecturing and drilling. In other words, dumping information into students’ brains without checking for true and meaningful understanding. Traditional educators give spelling tests weekly, testing students on all sorts of higher-level and lower-level words. They give out a list, tell students to study, provide a test, grade the test, and move onto a new set of words. Very little time goes into actually teaching the students how to spell these words or why they are spelled as they are. This means that students have not been taught the morphological rules that go along with the English language. Which leads to more bad spellers.  

Greek and Latin Roots

If you were in school before the 21st century, Greek and Latin roots were your bread and butter in English class. Teachers valued their role in learning how to decode and describe words. Lately, the focus on Greek and Latin roots has diminished as teachers move toward a more holistic approach to teaching vocabulary. This wouldn’t be a problem, if Greek and Latin roots didn’t play a large role in our ability to read and understand words. With a strong knowledge of these root words (which are responsible for the creation of the English language and several other romantic languages) one can read, spell, identify, and describe nearly every word in the Oxford English dictionary. That is because the knowledge of one Latin root can help you understand close to 30 or 40 words. And once you understand words, spelling them becomes second nature. 

Less Reading – Less Spelling

Reading. The enemy of the English Language Arts instructor. Getting students to read in this social climate is like pulling teeth. Students don’t want to spend their valuable time reading books when they can be reading Instagram posts. The trouble with this is those social media posts often contain slang, jargon and expletives, which serve little purpose to students developing their reading and spelling skills. If you spend less time looking at, studying, and learning new words, the likelihood of replicating those words in your spelling goes right out the window. Luckily, the prescription is simple. Read more. 

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The Day Before The Test

Tips for Preparing for the ACT and the SAT

Students preparing to take your official ACT or SAT in the coming days or months: have no fear. The day may be near, but Huntington is here to steer you clear of your woes and bring you cheer. Just a little rhyme to make you smile. I know it’s probably been a stressful time, but it’s important to maintain some level of sanity as you work through your exam prep programs and prepare for the big day of testing.

The day before your test is an important day as well. As you know, most students are in the habit of spending the day before a big test studying and cramming in any information they can. They stay up late drinking Mountain Dew and listening to heavy metal to pump them up. Or maybe that was just me. Regardless, there are some good habits (and far healthier habits) to get into the day before a crucial exam. 

To Study or Not to Study?

That is the question. Luckily it’s an easy question to answer. And the answer is definitely, absolutely, positively no. The day before your test is too late for studying. Your brain can only handle so much information in a window of time before facts and data start spewing out of your ears. For weeks you have likely been in input mode. You have been taking practice tests, reading through study guides, working with your tutors, and a number of other test preparations. Now that the test is here, it is time for output mode. You have done as much studying as you can. Put the books down and fight the urge to cram and freak out. 

The Most Important Meal of the Day

We have all been told for as long as we can remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And this is mostly true. But if you’re anything like me you might find yourself too busy in the mornings to make breakfast. And that’s okay! But the day before your test is a really important day to make the time to sit down and have a nice breakfast. The great thing about living in 2019 and having instant access to the world wide web is the delicious and healthy breakfast recipes available everywhere. My favorite place to check out great recipes if Tasty. Here are some fast and healthy recipes to browse! 

Self-Care

Last, but certainly not least, is the concept of self-care. If you take anything away from these pre-test strategies, I surely hope self-care is the one. Mental health is extremely important. Especially in the fast-paced and stressful world we live in today. And a huge aspect of mental health is self-care, something not nearly enough people value. Self-care means taking the time throughout your week to put yourself first and take care of your needs. For me, this looks like a quiet bubble bath, a sheet mask, and some lavender essential oils. For others, this might look like a long jog, a coffeehouse with live music, or a relaxing nap. Any way you look at it, self-care will go a long way the day before a test, so take advantage of it and plan some much needed you-time.

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How Many Times is Best?

Taking the SAT and the ACT

High school students all across the country are required to take college entrance exams. Whether those tests help them get into their dream school or get the full-ride scholarship they needed, these tests are very critical. The question that remains is: How often should one take the SAT or the ACT? A tricky question. 

When I was in school, I took each test once. I signed up for the test, showed up at my testing center, took it, then immediately forgot about it, and never looked back. This is not the ideal way to do things. Instead, taking these tests multiple times can actually increase your ACT and SAT scores in huge ways. Not only do you become more comfortable with the nuances of the test, you also practice working on similar questions before the pressure sets in on test day. 

Practice Test is Best

Always, always, always take a practice test. There are a number of ways to get access to both free and purchasable practice tests online and through Huntington Learning Center. Here at Huntington, we actually offer free practice tests to our students as they make their way through their program which leads to giant increases in scores. Practice tests help you learn the rules of a test and how to manage your time, so they become necessary for critical tests like the ACT and the SAT. Before taking your official test, try to take at least THREE practice tests to feel less stressed and more comfortable. 

What Score is Right for You?

Another factor to consider as you decide how many times to take these tests is the score that is right for you. Perhaps you want to get into an Ivy League college and need a nearly perfect score. Maybe you are going to a state college and need to meet a certain requirement for your program of study. Whatever the case, getting the score that is right for you should be your only goal. We advise our students to take the test three times in order to feel confident and proud of their results. Also, be aware of your potential school’s requirements. Some schools require that you submit your first official score, while others allow you to choose which scores you submit. Be aware of these rules. 

Superscoring

Many students have never heard of superscoring, but it can make a huge difference on your college applications. Only specific colleges accept these scores so do your research and see if you can take advantage of this opportunity. Superscoring is the process of combining your best scores from multiple tests to give you the best results. In other words, if you scored really high in math on your second attempt, really high in science on your third attempt, and really high in reading on your first attempt, you can take those separate scores and combine them into their own super score. This is HUGE for high school seniors. Take advantage of this. Take the test several times and pull your highest scores. It’s like walking through a grocery store and getting to pick out five free things, don’t miss this incredible opportunity!

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The Power of the Practice Test

Important tests come up all throughout our lives. We have to take a test to go to Kindergarten. We have to take tests administered by our state to track our growth in elementary school. We take tests to get into college (and to stay in college). We even have to take tests before we can legally drive a car. Testing is a big part of life. 

Those of us who have taken many of these tests (in other words, the oldies) know the power of taking practice tests beforehand. Practice tests do so much for our official testing day. They can eliminate stress because we feel more prepared. They give us a baseline for upward growth. They will even tell us our strengths and our weaknesses. But that’s not all the practice test does for us. 

Secret Intel

If you’ve ever seen a spy movie, you know just how critical intelligence is for a mission. And I don’t mean intelligence like brain power. Although that is helpful as well. I’m talking about intel, as in information. Taking practice tests is the student’s version of secret intel. When we take a practice test, we discover many, if not all of the nuances to the test. We learn how much time you get for each section, what the questions will look like, and what to watch out for. 

This intel is then used to hone in our studying so we can focus on more crucial parts of the exam. For example, if during a practice test for the ACT you discover that you are performing low on the math section, you now have the intelligence to focus your studying efforts on mathematical strategies. The same goes for other content areas of the exam. If you know all of the road signs and the laws of the road, but can’t actually drive a car, your efforts should be spent behind the wheel. 

Practice Makes Pretty Good

Most people would say practice makes perfect, but I like to say you should never let perfect get in the way of pretty good. So in this case, practice makes pretty good. Striving for a perfect score on a test is like hoping your favorite shirt will fit you perfectly for the rest of your life. It’s just not realistic. However, practicing a test before you take it can significantly upgrade your scores. For instance, here at Huntington, students who participate in our exam prep programs can expect an average raise in their ACT score by 6 points and an average increase on their SAT of 200 points or more.  

Testing Skills

Taking practice tests also provides you with a priceless skill – test taking. Not all people have this, but those who do can pass tests in their sleep. That is because taking a test is an actual skill. And like all skills, it can be built and developed. Build your test taking knowledge by taking practice tests. This way, you learn about time management, elimination, choosing the best answer out of a bunch of good answers, and so much more. Practice tests prepare your brain for the real thing. And if your brain is prepared, so are you. Like good study habits, good testing habits will follow you all your life and help create a more positive outlook on learning and achieving. 

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Setting Gears in Motion: Study Habits

School is a complicated place. There are students of a variety of ages, backgrounds, and academic levels. There are hundreds of rooms, a giant parking lot, a large sporting complex, lockers gallor, and so many people it’s hard to keep track. School is overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact, it can cause anxiety and stress for many students. Once the anxiety and stress sets in, the students check out academically and their grades suffer as a consequence. 

But schooling doesn’t have to be a complicated mess. It can have structure and routine. For example, having a steady study schedule that encompasses all of your classes can really help eliminate stress and make room for discovery. And creating a steady study schedule begins from day one of classes. Not halfway through the semester. If you are working on creating a solid study schedule, there are some pointers to keep in mind. 

Small Increments Beat Big Ones

Beware the cram session. Cramming has been scientifically proven, over and over, to be unsuccessful and to be debilitating for students. Cramming leads to almost zero retention and can cause further anxiety before a test. Instead of spending a large block of time studying, break your block into several small blocks. For example, instead of planning to study from 5pm to 9pm the night before the test, spend the week before the test studying in 20 minute spurts each day. As we all know, attention spans are generally quite small, so make sure you are catering your study time to your attention span. 

Visual Reminders

Sticky notes are a student’s best friend. Sticky notes help you keep track of your day and your calendar, as well as important details to remember. Sticky notes are excellent visual reminders to study. Stick one on your vanity or your mirror at home. Stick them to your school work. Trust me, if you see a sticky note five times a day that says don’t forget to study, you likely won’t forget. During college, I went as far as to stick my reminder notes on my food in the refrigerator to ensure I would see them. Girls gotta eat!

Another form of visual cues for studying is color coding. You can color code your sticky notes if you so desire. But color coding mostly refers to the methods you use for actually studying. If you are a visual person, use multiple colors of pens, pencils, or highlighters during your studying to categorize information. The colors act as a secondary means for retaining the information. If you remember what category the color represents, it can help you remember the material in the category. Next time you’re studying, color code your flash cards, your vocabulary terms, your math formulas, or anything else you are studying and see if it makes a difference for you. 

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Studying is not a sprint. It doesn’t happen over a small period of time. Studying takes months and months to truly perfect. And the American public school system doesn’t lend well to this. We only give our students a few months in a class before we switch things up. Which makes creating a study routine from the get-go even more critical. Your study routine might take some getting used to, but if you remain vigilant and consistent, it will come naturally to you and studying will become a part of your everyday routine. 

Once it becomes a part of your routine, you won’t have to stress over an upcoming test, because you have been slowly preparing for it for weeks. If you feel like a deadline for an essay is approaching rapidly, have no fear, your study routine has already given you time to outline and draft your essay. Now it just needs to be polished. Remember this next time you are assigned a big project. Plot out your study routine over the next few weeks until the due date. You won’t regret being ahead of the curve.