How to ace the IELTS

The #1 Tip on How to Ace the IELTS

How to ace the IELTS

The International English Language Testing System (also known as the IELTS) is recognized worldwide as the most popular English proficiency exam. Millions of people from around the globe take the IELTS every year, and unfortunately, many of them do not pass.

There is one trait, however, that everyone who successfully completes the IELTS has in common. It’s something you might not expect.

Our friends at Magoosh describe it in one word: confidence. Self confidence is key to passing the IELTS with flying colors. Keep reading to find out how to apply this simple principle to each section of the exam so you can ace the IELTS.

How to Ace the IELTS with Confidence

Project Confidence in Your Interview

The IELTS assesses every aspect of your English skills, including speaking. This section of the test is unique in that it is set up as a one-on-one, oral interview. Just like when you’re applying for a job, confidence in the interview room is a necessity.

Imagine what would happen if you showed up to a job interview overwhelmed by nerves and the fear of rejection. Chances are, you would perform poorly. You might stumble over your words, look down rather than make eye contact, or speak quietly and unclearly.

Your prospective boss would have trouble understanding you, and probably assume that you’re incapable of getting the job done well.

Nobody wants to be that person in a job interview, and you certainly don’t want to come across that way in an IELTS interview. In IELTS Speaking, it’s just as important to enunciate clearly, and pay attention to your body language. Project confidence with every move you make!

Refuse to be intimidated by your interviewer. Think of this part of the exam as an interview for a job that you know you’re going to get. In a sense, the IELTS is your gateway to a new career, either through immigration or university study.

Write Your Essay with Poise

A lack of confidence comes across the most obviously in IELTS Speaking, but in IELTS Writing there are also ways to “sound” confident in your essay.

To write in a confident tone on the IELTS, use vocabulary and grammar that you’re comfortable with. Be sure to include a variety of word choices and grammar constructions, while not overdoing it. Remember to keep it simple. If you use too many big, esoteric words and complex sentence structures, it’ll open you up to making more mistakes.

It can also come across as unnatural, and all of this can hurt your score. But if you write using the words and syntax you truly understand and feel confident in, you’ll be on your way to achieving the best possible IELTS Writing Score.

If maintaining this balance sounds complicated to you, remember that practice makes perfect. Review the many IELTS books and resources that are available so you can become acquainted with writing style and vocabulary.

RELATED- ESL Learners: Are You Making These 21 Common Mistakes?

Stay Calm During Listening and Reading

What makes a general successful in war? “Grace under fire,” as we like to say in English. This means that good military commanders feel calm and confident, even as they face dangers that would make a less confident person panic.

Of course, the IELTS Reading and Listening sections aren’t literally a battlefield. But as you look across a seemingly hazardous reading passage, or face a bumpy ride through an audio track, for a moment it can seem like you’re waging a personal war for your IELTS score.

Try to remain cool, calm, and collected throughout the Listening and Reading sections of the test. Don’t let fear and panic set in. Tips to ace the IELTS

Approach questions, reading passages, and audio strategically. Look for and listen for the most important keywords. If you don’t know the meaning of a written word, or you miss something that was said, stay confident and focused. Look for contextual clues to find the meaning.

Employ elimination techniques on multiple choice questions, and think critically when you need to write down your own short answers. You can practice all of these approaches before you take the test by working through an IELTS study schedule.

Whether you’re taking the IELTS for university admissions, immigration, or employment, one thing is for certain. The more you believe you can pass the IELTS, the more focused and successful you’ll be. Another excellent way to prepare for the IELTS is with the help of an experienced tutor that specializes in English as a second language.

A tutor can help answer any questions you have as you study for the exam. Look for a qualified English teacher near you to receive one-on-one guidance and feedback that will take you one step closer to acing the IELTS. Good luck!

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Guest post by David Recine, IELTS expert at Magoosh. David has a Master’s in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and has been teaching ESL since 2007.

How Hard is the GMAT, Really?

26408408_cb10f054d0_oHow hard is the GMAT, really? Find out the insider scoop in this guest post by online tutor Marcus S...


New students and prospective students planning to go to grad school to get an MBA (or other advanced business degree) often ask me, how hard is the GMAT, really? Some people say it’s hard, while other say it’s easy. The GMAT is unusual in this way. With other grad school tests, such as the LSAT or MCAT, most students assume they are facing a tough exam. Determining the difficulty of the Graduate Management Admission Test is confusing because it has unique features that make it hard to compare to other exams.

The Content of the GMAT Should Be Familiar

MBA programs like to welcome students from a wide variety of backgrounds. If the GMAT tested high-level math, it would give an unfair advantage to engineering and math majors. If it tested obscure vocabulary words, literature majors might have the upper hand. Instead, the makers of the exam only use material they expect everyone taking the GMAT to have studied.

You probably learned all of the math on the GMAT while you were in high school, and the same goes for the basic economic terminology you’re expected to understand. But that’s an example of why the difficulty of the GMAT is hard to determine: do you remember everything you learned in high school? The good news is that a refresher course is always easier than learning from scratch.

The GMAT Is Different From High School, and That’s Bad

The curriculum level of GMAT is essentially high school material, true. In fact, if you were an honors student in high school, you probably went well beyond the algebra and geometry seen on the GMAT. Yet the GMAT is different in several key ways. In high school, timing on tests is usually not a big deal, and many teachers might give you as much time as you need. They want to test your knowledge, not your speed. On the other hand, the GMAT is meant to test your speed (among other things).

The other major difference also has to do with time, but rather than how little of it they give you to answer the questions, the issue is how much total time the test takes, which is over four hours. A big part of GMAT preparation is getting used to working under the pressure that the strict clock brings, as well as building up the mental and physical stamina to stay sharp throughout the long exam.

The GMAT Is Different From High School, and That’s Good

There are also ways that the GMAT is easier than a 9th grade algebra test. For one thing, you don’t have to “show your work.” As long as you end up with the right answer, it counts. Plus, the test is multiple choice, and this format opens up the possibility to use tricks and shortcuts that would make your 9th grade algebra teacher scream, or at least shake her head in disapproval.

So… How Hard is the GMAT?

The GMAT isn’t necessarily hard, but it does require specific skills. What really matters is not how hard it is, but how you do compared to your peers. Remember that unlike the SAT, which most teenagers take, the GMAT is taken only by people who have already done well in college, meaning the competition is tougher this time around. So don’t take this test lightly. But with the guidance of an expert GMAT test prep tutor who understands your strengths and weaknesses and the nuances of the test, you’ll be on your way to acing the exam and earning your graduate degree.

MarcusSMarcus S. tutors online for a variety of subjects. He has been trained and certified to teach classes and give individual tutoring to students in the SAT, GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for the Princeton Review. Learn more about Marcus here!



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5 Books to Help You With TOEFL Preparation


Gearing up to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)? Here, online tutor Marcus S. rounds up the top books to help with your TOEFL preparation…


If you are studying for the TOEFL, it probably means you are moving to another country to attend a university or start a new career. With all of the other paperwork and planning you have to deal with, passing the TOEFL can feel like an impossible task. But with a professional tutor and the best study guides available, you’ll be able learn fast and effectively, and get an excellent score on the TOEFL.

1. McGraw-Hill Education 400 Must-Have Words for the TOEFL

Not knowing the definition of one of the words in a reading comprehension sentence or vocab question on the TOEFL can keep you from figuring out the correct answer to the question. That’s why the distinguished McGraw-Hill Education company has put together a book that features more than 400 of the most common high-level vocabulary words found on the test. 400 Must-Have Words for the TOEFL isn’t just a list of definitions — it also has 150 learning exercises, plus tips and example sentences, and it gives you free access to an interactive mobile phone app created by Language Labs for additional TOEFL preparation.

2. TOEFL Grammar Guide: 23 Grammar Rules You Must Know To Guarantee Your Success On The TOEFL Exam!

The basics of grammar for a native language are learned subconsciously by children from a young age. Learning the grammar of a different language as an adult is one of the hardest parts of mastering English. The TOEFL Grammar Guide makes the process simpler by teaching you 23 rules that will help you write clear, correct sentences on the exam.

3. Barron’s TOEFL iBT

It’s impossible to properly prepare for the TOEFL without hearing correctly spoken English as you practice. The Barron’s TOEFL iBT test prep book comes with audio CDs that let you listen to questions and directions spoken in English. It also give you seven full practice TOEFL tests, a review of skills needed for the exam, and a CD-ROM that features simulations of the online exam. Along with this, Barron’s test prep program includes tips for taking notes, summarizing long passages, and other skills that will not only help you do better on the TOEFL but become a better student in general.

4. Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT

The speaking and writing sections of the TOEFL are the most difficult for many students, and this book lets you focus on these challenging questions. Author Bruce Stirling teaches you how to approach speaking and writing answers with a strategy called “argument mapping.” This technique is designed to give you a step-by-step method of answering each question, so you can work quickly and efficiently. Different strategies are given for both basic and advanced test-takers, and the techniques can be used on any type of speaking or writing question on the TOEFL.

5. Official TOEFL iBT Tests with Audio

Once you’ve learned the skills and techniques needed to correctly answer TOEFL questions, it will be time to take real tests written by the ETS testing service. This book includes five practice tests that have each been used as official TOEFL exams, along with a CD to let you listen to the audio portions of the TOEFL.

Learning and perfecting a new language can be overwhelming. If you don’t know where to start and what path to follow, you can end up just jumping around from subject to subject and not improving much. These expert TOEFL preparation books will give you a map to learning the English you need to excel on the test in an organized and thoughtful way.

MarcusSMarcus S. tutors online in a variety of subjects. He has been trained and certified to teach classes and give individual tutoring to students in the SAT, GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for the Princeton Review. Learn more about Marcus here!



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5 Important Test-Taking Tips to Overcome Anxiety


Do you get nervous before taking exams? You’re not alone! Here, New York, NY tutor Lauren P. shares some helpful test taking tips for overcoming your anxiety…


You’ve already used every tactic and justification to convince your subconscious to let go of test anxiety. Despite your logical arguments, if you can still feel the tension in your body and panic flooding your brain, don’t lose hope. Take a deep breath and consider the following solutions.

1. Stop fearing the unknown (or expecting the worst)

Almost all fear is simply fear of the unknown. Another kind of fear comes from expecting the worst. This, of course, is also unknown since we cannot predict the future. To take your upcoming test out of the realm of the unknown, try one of the following:

• Over-prepare, so you can be confident.
• Pay attention in class, keep organized notes, and complete all reading and homework assignments.
• Use fun and informative online test prep, practice tests, and study forums to learn information in a new way.
• Search for subject or test-specific apps, YouTube videos, Quizlet pages, or resource websites.
• Study ahead of time independently, with a partner, in a study group, and with your tutor.
• Set up appointments with your teacher to get extra study materials and his or her personal tips for doing well.
• Take a practice or pre-test (ask your teacher if he/she has one).
• If possible, practice in the actual test setting. (Mentally, this will trick your brain into feeling calm in the test-taking setting and prevent you from feeling anxiety or drawing a blank on the actual test day.)

2. Establish positive associations

The brain is an amazing and infuriating tool. It forms subconscious positive and negative associations that can lead to anything from post-traumatic stress-induced fainting or salivating hunger. Use the following strategies to replace your negative test-taking associations with positive associations.

• Schedule regular study sessions with a post-study party or reward.
• Make cramming fun with friends, snacks, and music, or a post-study meal or movie.
• Schedule a post-test celebration. (This will help you associate tests with rewarding celebratory experiences.)
• Keep a positive frame of mind in the test setting.
• In the actual test, keep something with you that brings you back to a calm state of mind. For example, use scented Chapstick or lotion that reminds you of the beach.
• Take a one-minute break to visualize your “happy place” or “play” your favorite song in your head.

3. Visualize

The power of visualization is so real that doctors have proven that the effects of an athlete visualizing the specifics of an intense training session and successful competition are as beneficial as actually exercising or practicing. If positive visualization has measurable effects on an athlete’s capabilities and success, it can for you too! Visualize breezing through the test, correctly and confidently answering questions, and receiving it back with a perfect score.

4. Keep perspective

As odd as it may sound, the best way to eliminate anxiety is to not care at all how you do or what happens. If you complete all of the above suggestions and are still panicked, it is time for you to take a step back and keep perspective. Think back to past experiences of anxiety. How much did the outcome really matter? Now realize the same is true for this test. Ask yourself how you will feel about this when you are 80 years old — will it really matter? Will it even matter in 10 years, or even one? Probably not.

Maybe you are screaming that this test does affect your life in the long-term. It is time to assume the positive attitude that everything happens for a reason. Most standardized and admission tests that carry long-term consequences allow you to take them multiple times. If not, what is the worst that can possibly happen? Maybe you are not meant to do well on your SAT because you will end up at a school where you will find your true calling or your soul mate. While this may sound crazy, it is important to keep perspective. Remember that everything happens for a reason, and in five, 10, or 15 years, it probably won’t matter anyway.

5. Be honest and upfront about your needs

Okay, okay, so you do care about the score and this does matter. Stop trying to be superhuman and deal with the anxiety on your own. Tell your teacher ahead of time that you have test anxiety and need accommodations. What would relieve your anxiety? It is in your rights to ask for double the amount of time, a proctor to read the test aloud, a small group setting, or a completely separate location without any other students or distractions.

Speaking from experience as a student support coordinator, more than one in 10 students use one of the above testing modifications. If your school is resistant, download a 504 form and have your doctor sign it, explaining that you need extended time or a separate location due to testing anxiety. There is no need to be concerned that use of accommodations will affect your reputation as a stellar student. A large percentage of students benefit from accommodations, and the use of them are completely confidential and unknown to college admissions offices, prospective schools, and employers.

So, to review the above test-taking tips: review your materials with your tutor, take a practice test in the same or a similar test setting, ask your teacher for additional support, establish positive associations, plan for celebration, and visualize positive outcomes. Once you’ve done all that, you will be ready to take your test anxiety-free.

LaurenPLauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!



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5 Books to Help You Ace the GMAT

GMAT review

Applying for an MBA program? Here, online tutor Marcus S. shares the best GMAT books to help you study for the big test…


Even after doing great on the SAT and all of those endless college exams, preparing for the GMAT can still be scary. You’re going to grad school, after all, and that’s something most people never get the chance to do. Fortunately, you’re not alone on the test prep battlefield. With the right combination of expert tutoring and the best books to help you ace the GMAT, you’ll be on your way to an MBA in no time.

1. The GMAT Roadmap: Expert Advice Through Test Day

This book is the latest from the test prep gurus at Manhattan GMAT Strategy Guides. Manhattan provides you with six online practice tests, but does something even more important as well. Their book gives you a blueprint for creating a test prep foundation. This holistic test-taking system includes tips for eating the best foods to help you stay sharp and focused, study schedules that maximize your brain’s ability to learn, and ways to get over your test-taking anxiety. The GMAT Roadmap also teaches you methods for approaching each of the specific types of questions on the exam, and much more.

2. The PowerScore GMAT Critical Reasoning Bible

If you want to focus on studying for argumentation questions, the GMAT Critical Reasoning Bible from PowerScore will be your new best friend. The author of this book is one of the leading authorities on critical reasoning for the LSAT, which is known for having even tougher questions in this subject than the GMAT. (We all know lawyers love to argue!) He has also written several other GMAT books for PowerScore, so you can be sure the Critical Reasoning Bible is meant for test takers who are aiming for big time scores and not just trying to squeak by.

3. Total GMAT Math

The title of Total GMAT Math is straight to the point and so are its lesson plans. When you want to submerse yourself in the quantitative section of the GMAT, this book is the ideal spot to dive into. It not only has hundreds of practice questions and exercises, but starts you off with in-depth tutorials that help you understand each kind of math question you could possibly encounter on the GMAT. Total GMAT Math also lets you shoot for a top percentile score with more than 100 “challenge” level practice questions.

4. Veritas Prep Complete GMAT Course Set

Take a deep breath before you continue reading. The Compete GMAT Course Set from Veritas comes with a whopping 12 volumes, but don’t let that deter you. If it were easy to ace the GMAT, your future degree in business management wouldn’t mean much. This set includes books that will help you attack every category of question on the GMAT with titles such as Advanced Verbal Strategy, Foundations of GMAT Logic, and Sentence Correction. Purchase of this book set will also allow you to use the online Veritas Prep Question Bank, an adaptive GMAT computer test, and other exclusive resources.

5. Official Guide for GMAT Review

There’s only one place where you can get access to the exact questions that have been asked on real GMAT exams, and that’s the Official Guide for GMAT Review. Turn on the coffee maker and dig into a stockpile of more than 900 practice questions taken from past GMAT tests. You’ll also receive free access to online videos, questions, and a diagnostic test provided by GMAC, the makers of the GMAT.

Once you’ve reviewed these GMAT books and worked with a tutor to get extra help, you’ll have just one more step to go — ace the test — before you can move forward with your business education and successful career. Good luck!

MarcusSMarcus S. tutors online in a variety of subjects. He has been trained and certified to teach classes and give individual tutoring to students in the SAT, GMAT, GRE, and LSAT for the Princeton Review. Learn more about Marcus here!



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How to Create Study Guides That Actually Work

Study Guides That Work

Effective study guides can make a huge impact on how you learn and retain material. Find out the best tips for success in this guest post by San Diego tutor Natalie S

Studying for an exam can be a stressful, daunting process. When you’ve got a textbook, a binder full of lecture notes, and a bunch of homework, it’s hard to know where to start! Study guides are great tools that make this process much more manageable and efficient.

Check out the tips and suggested resources below to help you create study guides that will make you more effective and less stressed.

1. Start with the basics.

In order to ace your exams, you need to do the work from the beginning. This may seem like a pretty silly statement, but it bears repeating anyway. It’s pretty difficult to create a study guide if you didn’t do any of the homework or projects leading up to exam time. So, start off the right way: be present in class, do the required readings, complete the assigned homework, and engage in class discussions. If you consistently do this, the process for creating a study guide and acing your exams will be much easier.

2. Take notes. Take notes. Take notes.

When you’re in class or reading on your own, make sure to always have a pencil, highlighter, and Post-it notes in hand. When you write something down, you internalize the information better, so even though it might be easier to just listen in class, it’s more beneficial to you in the long-run if you consistently take notes. Class lectures are designed to introduce you to the material, subsequent readings from your textbook are designed to have you review the same information again, and finally, this information is reinforced once more when you do your homework. When teachers give you a test, they want you to take all of those instances of hearing, reading, and writing about the information, and apply all of that to prove you’ve actually internalized the information. The best way to do all of this successfully is to write the material down over and over.

3. Take the right types of notes.

This is a very important piece of the study guide puzzle. This may take some time and practice, but you have to find a balance between extracting the most important details and rewriting your entire textbook. A good study guide should be a combination of both the lecture notes and notes from the readings. Go through chapter notes and look for similarities in your lecture notes. If certain topics, names, or concepts appear more than once, underline or highlight them, and make sure they are prominent in your study guide. Something that appears multiple times is clearly important and will show up on an exam. Combine your two sets of notes into one, coherent study guide.

4. Ask your teacher for guidance.

Before making a study guide, ask your teacher if he or she is going to provide a list of terms, ideas, and even possible essay topics that will be on the exam. Sometimes teachers will offer this information to make it easier for you to create your own study guide.

5. Third time’s the charm.

A great option for getting the most out of your study guide is to write it in three steps. The first step is writing the long version. This is a lengthy outline that includes a lot of detail on the major topics. In this first version, rewrite your class notes in a more organized outline, compile notes from the text, and include any additional ideas that you learned from class. In the second step, you cut this outline down by half. Write out the major headlines and include 5-10 of the most important details under each headline. In the third step, a couple of days before the exam, cut your outline in half again, and write down only the major bullet points. Once you’ve written those down, repeat out loud the details that pop up in your head for each bullet point. The goal in creating this type of outline study guide is to force yourself to rewrite the info in your own words more than once. Each time, you’ll begin to learn the material more thoroughly, and by the third time, you’ll be able to practically teach the material yourself!

There are all kinds of ways to organize your study guides based on the subject you are reviewing and the learning style that suits you best. For more help creating and learning about different types of study guides, check out the following helpful resources:

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep in San Diego, as well as through online lessons. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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5 Ways to Trick Your Brain Into Beating Procrastination

How To Overcome Procrastination

Having trouble focusing on your homework? Check out these helpful tips from San Diego tutor Natalie S

Procrastination. We’re all guilty of it, and we’ve all experienced moments where we’d rather be doing anything but the actual task in front of us. Sometimes an assignment seems so daunting that it’s much easier to pretend it doesn’t even exist. But the fact is we all have commitments and due dates to deliver on, and procrastinating just makes it more difficult to reach our goals. Check out the five tips below on beating procrastination and getting more work accomplished in a shorter amount of time.

1) Work with a tutor.

Academic tutors are great options for one-on-one additional assistance in any subject, from math to science to languages. Your tutor can also teach you various methods and study skills to help you finish your work quickly and more efficiently. You’ll learn how to allocate your time appropriately, and you will be on your way to beating procrastination.

2) Start with something you know.

It’s quite difficult to actually start working when there are so many more tantalizing things you could be doing! By reviewing material that you already know first, you’re easing your brain —  and mindset — into studying, and you’ll be less likely to procrastinate. Plus, you’ll give yourself a nice confidence boost!

3) Set a time limit.

If you really want to watch TV or play a video game, then set some manageable time limits for yourself. Set a timer and commit to studying for 40 minutes non-stop, and then reward yourself with a 20-minute study break to do whatever you’d like to do. Using a timer will ensure that you stay productive and on task.

4) Break down your assignment into steps.

Don’t think of the whole big picture for your assignment — this can make it feel overwhelming. Instead, divert your attention to breaking down the assignment into manageable pieces. If you’re studying for a World History midterm, for example, study one culture (like the US) one day and another (Africa) on the next day. By breaking it down into smaller pieces, the challenge at hand will seem less scary, and you’ll be less likely to succumb to procrastination.

5) Plan a study schedule with a reward system.

If you have trouble with beating procrastination, then reward yourself for each and every hour of work in which you stay on task. If you have a tangible reward waiting for you at the end, you will be more motivated to work harder and faster to earn your prize. If you don’t trust yourself to stick with the program, have a parent, tutor, or trusted friend dish out your reward. If someone else holds you accountable, this can also help you succeed.

Implementing these five tips into your daily study routine will help you become more productive, successful, and procrastination-free in no time!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep in San Diego, as well as through online lessons. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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Ace Your Writing Skills Test With These 4 Tips


Preparing for a writing skills test? Take a look at these helpful tips from Ann Arbor, MI teacher Elaina R. to calm your nerves…


Writing skills tests are a very real part of life. They come up in grade school, in college entrance exams, and even in employment applications. Fortunately, writing skills tests are formulaic. Once you know what is on them, the prospect of taking them periodically throughout life becomes less daunting. Here are the basic elements of a writing skills test – and how you can successfully prepare for one.

Elements of a Writing Skills Test

Writing skills tests usually consist of one or more of the following components.

  • Identifying and Correcting Errors

Error identification questions are often multiple choice. They test your grasp of English writing rules. In these questions, a sentence is presented, and you need to determine whether or not it contains an error. If there is an error, you’ll need to identify the error and show how to correct it.

Some errors in a writing skills tests have to do with punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. Others have to do with rules like plural agreement and illogical comparison.

  • Short Answer

For short answer responses, you’ll be asked to respond to a prompt in one or two paragraphs. Here, you’ll be evaluated on the basis or rhetorical skill, style, and overall response as well as on correct usage of the English language. You must also demonstrate the ability to understand the prompt.

  • Essay Writing

As in the short answer category, you’ll be asked to respond to a prompt. However, in the essay section, you are expected to write a full-length essay rather than just one or two paragraphs. Overall essay structure, focus, and quality comes into play here, on top of rhetorical skill and proper grammar.

How to Study for a Writing Skills Test

  • Research Your Test

Do some research to find out exactly what you are facing. If there isn’t a short answer section on your test, for instance, you don’t have to bother to focus on short answer questions.

  • Study

Studying is easier if you break it down into categories. You need a good grasp of punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and common English language rules for every section on the test, so focusing on these skills is important. Try studying one or two specific skills (such as comma use or plural agreement) each day.

To produce good writing samples, you need to hone your rhetorical skills. Practice structuring short answers so that the first sentence clearly states your case and the following sentences explain it further. Practice using your knowledge of punctuation and other basics here.

For the essay section, structure is your best friend. Practice writing outlines that include a clear thesis statement, an introduction, clear topic sentences for each paragraph, and a sound conclusion. Direction and organization mark the difference between success and failure in the essay section. Never start writing without developing an outline first, and take care to stick to the topic at all times.

  • Take Practice Tests

There are multitudinous study guides available for writing skills tests. If possible, choose one that was designed specifically for your test. Online practice tests are also a great option, since they often feel like games and make studying more fun.

  • Hire a Tutor

A private tutor is your most solid means of preparing for a writing skills test. He or she can make sure that you cover every aspect of the test and are well-prepared for the rigors of a timed testing experience. A tutor can also guide you on what to study on your own, which can be a relief for those daunted by the volume of material at hand.

Writing Wisely

Preparing for a writing skills test doesn’t have to be stressful. With a proper understanding of the test itself, coupled with appropriate study and help from a tutor, you are sure to do well. Plus, studying for a writing skills test has a silver lining: your emails, letters, and Facebook posts will suddenly be poignant and error-free!

ElainaElaina R. is a writer, editor, singer, and voice teacher based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her book Slaying Your Admissions Essay Dragon shows how to write application essays that are actually fun to read. Elaina has served as an editor for several notable books as well, including NFL great Adrian Peterson’s autobiography Don’t Dis My Abilities. Learn more about Elaina here!



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10 Ways to Study without Distraction

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Need to get some studying done, but not sure how to handle all the distractions? Check out these helpful tips from Honolulu tutor Jinan B...


Sometimes focusing on studying can become an uphill battle between your mental thoughts, the noise around you, that game you want to play on Facebook… the list goes on. Read on for 10 simple tips and ways to study to combat distraction.

1. Create the right environment.
Distraction is often a byproduct of an environment filled with noise, excess technology, open browsers – you get the idea. Create an environment designed for studying. This can be as simple as clearing your workspace, restarting your computer, and taking a few deep breaths to quiet the mind.

2. Set an intention.
Distraction can also happen when you are unclear about the direction in which you are headed, or what you are trying to accomplish. Set a clear intention for a period of time or a project so that you are always working towards something specific, achievable, and quantifiable.

3. Turn off the channels of communication.
Facebook, Twitter, email, telephone – all of these are great for communicating and reaching out, but when you are trying to stay focused, they can undermine even the most determined of us. Turn your phone to silent, sign out of your email and social media accounts, and know that most communication is non-urgent, so returning to it an hour or two will likely cause no disruption at all.

4. Vary your routine.
Boredom is a leading cause of distraction. When you’re bored, you don’t want to focus and accomplish something specific. You can avoid boredom by varying your routine in terms of your study location, your method of studying (flashcards, asking someone to quiz you, reading aloud versus silently, etc.) and any other factor within your control.

5. Make your goal public.
When you have your reputation at stake, you will be much more likely to meet your goal. So find an accountability partner or post your goal to study without distraction for a certain amount of time to social media, and then follow up with a post stating how you did. Achieving your goal can be even more rewarding when your network knows about it, too!

6. Find support.
Sometimes distraction happens because we are overwhelmed by the tasks in front of us. Finding help can be as simple as taking a study skills class, talking to a friend, or reaching out to a classmate. This is one of the best ways to study efficiently, because when you feel supported and in control, you are more likely to be productive.

7. Manage expectations from others.
Those around you can also be a significant source of distraction. If you know you need to study quietly for the next two hours, but your partner, child or roommate doesn’t know this, it’s bound to result in distraction. Communicating your needs simply and clearly ahead of time can create the space you need without offending those around you.

8. Take breaks.
All work and no play results in… not a lot of work done. Taking breaks is essential to recharge your mental and physical state, so that when you do study, you can use your time well.

9. Prepare beforehand.
Studying can be as simple as finding your book and notebook, but other times, you may need additional equipment. Preparing ahead of time by charging your laptop, printing out any reading material, or downloading study guides can ensure that you spend your designated study time actually studying rather than locating the tools that you will need. Similarly, make sure you are as well-rested, fed, and hydrated as possible so that you are not distracted by bodily sensations of sleepiness, hunger, and thirst.

10. Use time management techniques.
There are a few ways to study and techniques to try; the Pomodoro technique, for example, can revolutionize your use of time. Making use of simple tools for time management can ensure you stay on track.

With these tips, you should find that you accomplish your study goals in less time. Remember to make small changes and tweak your routine according to your daily needs. And give yourself a little leeway, too – nobody is ever 100% distraction-free, so just do your best and reward yourself as you take steps toward an organized, efficient studying routine.

JinanJinan B. tutors in Life Science in Honolulu, HI. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, teaching various courses including Community Nutrition, Concepts in Nutrition Education, and Advanced Child and Adolescent Nutrition. Learn more about Jinan here!  


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How to Score a 5 on the AP World History Exam

494053737_72f3856212_bGetting ready to take the AP World History Exam? Brush up on these study tips from Olympia, WA tutor Tali H


Lucky for you, the AP World History Exam tends to be one of the easier AP tests. It’s just over three hours long with two sections that are weighted equally: a 55-minute 70-question-multiple-choice section and a 130-minute free-response section. (Learn more about the test here.) Regardless of your intellectual capabilities, it is impossible to know every bit of history. Instead, you need to know what information to focus on.

1. Buy an AP Review Book
Instead of slogging through textbooks, which generally overload the reader with information, facts, and dates, buy an AP review book, which highlights the important concepts in compact units. I recommend Cracking the AP World History Exam (used, slightly dated editions like the 2012 version can be found on for under $1). These books are also loaded with test questions and come with two full-length practice tests.

2. Know the World Map
In order to get a solid grasp on the material you’re learning, you should first become familiar with the world map. Pay special attention to places that have changed over time. For example, “Mexico” used to be called “New Spain” and “East Pakistan” is now “Bangladesh.” I’ve seen plenty of students confused because, not realizing the territory has been renamed, they can’t find New Spain on the map! To make sure you have a good geographical foundation, practice drawing the world map a few times (or at least filling in a pre-drawn but blank world map). Make it a contest with fellow classmates or friends to spice up this activity. Also, there are plenty of online sites to test your “map and geography knowledge.” (Try Lizard Point Geography Quizzes.)

3. Make A Timeline
Many teachers will tell you “dates aren’t that important for the exam.” In essence, I agree with this statement, especially the farther back in history you go. However, it’s important to know the general chronology of historical events. Here’s why: The AP World History Exam places emphasis on global interactions and change-over-time (there is actually a “Change-Over-Time” essay), both of which require having a reasonable idea of when things occur (not necessarily dates) and what else is going on in the world simultaneously. This emphasis makes sense: People, countries, and continents are not isolated. They may exist separately but they fluctuate together, constantly evolving. So, to really understand “time,” I suggest a timeline. Now, because so much happens in our world’s history, it’s important to have a big timeline. If there’s room in your house, put up a roll of paper from one of the wall to the other. Then you can make a line and label events as you go through the world history course. Make it interactive by drawing pictures to go with significant events. If you don’t have room in your house, you can go online. I recommend (or a similar site with a wide open canvas that you can zoom around on, add information, and upload pictures and video).

4. Supplement Your Reading
If you’re taking a class, you will almost undoubtedly be working with a history textbook. However, words on a page often have trouble sticking in our brains by themselves. What you need to do is find movies and short videos (use Youtube) that you can watch after you’ve read about an event. Then go back to the textual information and reread it, checking to see if the way you imagined the event matched up with what you saw. This helps you more than you realize. By combining reading and watching, you’re first creating an original virtual reality experience, then comparing that with the media you’re viewing, and then, during the second read through, you’re analyzing the differences. This process interweaves many facets of your brain enabling strong recall and memory with the information you’re learning.

Yes, it may take a little extra time to read, watch, and then reread information on one particular concept. You definitely don’t want to do this with every significant event. To start, I recommend choosing 10 important events (spaced out over our historical timeline) that interest you.

How do you choose the events? If you have an AP Review Book, they will have an “important events” list at the end of each unit, which are generally separated by time periods. Otherwise, go online, type in “AP World History Important Dates,” and choose some from a list that comes up.

If you’re stuck, here’s a good starter list (but remember there are so many to choose from):

  • 2000 Judaism begins w/Abraham
  • 1320-1340 Spread of Bubonic Plague
  • 1029-258 Zhou Dynasty
  • 470-430 Golden Age of Athens
  • 610 Rise of Islam
  • 1492 Columbus expedition
  • 1600-1690 Scientific Revolution
  • 1770 Beginning of Industrial Revolution
  • 1948 Creation of Israel
  • 1959 Cuban Revolution

Don’t forget to put all the events you spend extra time with onto your timeline.

Finally, remember that world history is just one, long, ongoing story about the human race. Try to put yourself in the shoes of those you read about and recognize that understanding the concepts is far more important than knowing exact dates. Learning specific study skills for this type of memorization can be easily achieved with a tutor, so check out TakeLesson’s selection of experienced world history tutors for additional help. For more information about the test, visit The College Board’s website.

TaliHTali H. tutors in various academic subjects in Olympia, WA, as well as through online lessons. Since 2010, she has worked with numerous students in elementary, middle, high school, and college in both group settings and one-on-one. Learn more about Tali here! 



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