Test prep is like weight training. Your trainer hands you something heavy, and you try to lift it. If you can, they’ll give you something heavier. When you reach your breaking point, you stop and work to build up more strength so you can break through that threshold. Once you can comfortably complete rep after rep at a lower weight, then it’s time to increase the weight and try again. And again. And again. Until finally your muscles have rested and grown enough that you’re able to warm up with weights that were once beyond your max.

We take a similar approach with test prep. Each tutoring lesson is a mental workout: identify a topic from homework or diagnostics (linear equations, comma splices, circles, shoulders, legs — sorry! The processes are so similar that I got confused), warm up with some easy problems, then increase the difficulty bit by bit until eventually we hit that sweet spot where the student struggles.

At that point, we stop and review the concepts needed to progress to the next level. Sometimes that will require revisiting the fundamentals; other times the fundamentals are sound and it’s an execution issue or a reading issue. Regardless, we know we’re in an area that needs attention, and we’ll work on that topic until it starts to feel easy. By the time we’ve worked through everything, hopefully the student demonstrates mastery of the concept.

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Ready for a workout?

Suppose a student couldn’t answer a question about circle equations on a homework assignment, we can work on that during a lesson.

If you’re playing at home, here’s the basic form of a circle equation:

*h *and *k *represent the x and y coordinates of the circle’s center, respectively, and r represents the length of the circle’s radius. Alright, you’re ready to lift. Don’t forget to breathe.

Start light: Answer questions that test the basic form of the circle equation:

Make it a tad more challenging by moving the circle away from the origin:

Get heavier: Ask questions that require more of a conceptual/visual understanding of how the elements of the equation relate to a visual graph.

And heavier: Replace some of the numbers with letters to make it more conceptual:

And then bring out the big plates: Add manipulation of the equation (completing the square) to make the relevant information obscured:

Tack on a few more pounds by removing the multiple choice answers:

And finally max out: Reverse the order of information, add letters, require conceptual understanding, and remove multiple choice:

Each step along the way is an opportunity to teach more information about one topic. And each question builds on the previous ones.

As you can see, one concept can be the basis for many different question types, meaning that it’s not enough to know the basics. Students must be able to conceptualize and apply the fundamental skills in a variety of ways.

And that’s how you get swole on standardized tests.

Pollak Tutors, LLC

New Providence, NJ