Baby Algebra Upgrade: How To Recognize (And Actually Understand) A Linear Equation

In the first post of my new series upgrading your baby Algebra skills to the level that will let you snag all the points available on the SAT, we’re covering the foundation: what are linear equations, anyway, and what do they actually mean? Need answers? Read on!

Stepping Up Your Math Confidence: The Girls' Guide to Fearless SAT & ACT Math

High school girls often lack confidence in their math abilities, and that can do serious damage. Here are my top tips for firing yourself up for fearless math!

6 Easy Steps to Get Into College


Whether you’re about to begin your Junior year of high school or you’re only a Sophomore or Freshman and have considerably more time, I want to give you a quick landscape of the major steps to get into college that you need to take.

My intention here is that if you know what the crucial milestones are, you can methodically work to knock them off your list one at a time and not be a total anxiety-ridden stress case!  I’ve gone ahead and listed them in chronological order, though some steps may be ongoing and thus overlap with other steps.

Moreover, I’ve tried my best to provide an ideal timeline of when you should be doing each step and about how long it takes.  Keep in mind that “ideal timelines” may of course vary depending on where you are right now and your personal strengths and weaknesses. With my private clients, I can tailor this process to the perfectly bespoke little black dress of college admissions prep timelines—go here for an Ace the Test: Game Plan. However, if I do not know you personally, realize that you may have to adjust the dates just a modicum to apply perfectly to you.

Step #1: SAT I or ACT

Unless you are specifically researching colleges that don’t require standardized tests, you are going to have to take either the SAT I Reasoning Test or the ACT. (To find out which one, either go here or click on the cute teal pop-up in the bottom right of your screen.)


You are going to need to brush up on your math, grammar, reading comprehension, vocab and essay-writing abilities for both tests.

For the ACT, you should also brush up on interpreting charts and graphs and basic scientific method facts for the Science section. (NOTE: If you’re currently a Sophomore, you’ll need this skill too, regardless of which test you take, since you’ll be choosing between the ACT and the Revised SAT.)


August before Junior year, if not before: Start reviewing content weekly.

January/February of Junior year: Focus on taking mock and practice tests (between 4-6) and going over them.

March/April of Junior year: Take first SAT/ACT for real.

May: SAT attempt #2

June: ACT attempt #2

Fall of Senior year: Attempt #3 if needed.

Step #2: SAT II Subject Tests (Depends on School)

Depending on the schools on your college short list, you may be off the hook for SAT II Subject Tests. Or, if you are applying to Harvard, you may need 3 of them!  Each college has its specifications, so make sure you do your research and write them down.  (Need help? An Ace the Test: Game Plan will do it for you!)


May/June of Sophomore year: If you are taking any classes that would aptly prepare you for a Subject Test, go ahead and take it.  Give yourself about 2 months’ study time, and pick the test date that is as close to your final exam for the class as possible.

June of Junior year: Take another 1-2 Subject Tests in subjects that correlate to classes you are taking.

Fall of Senior year: If you still need to take more subject tests or improve a score, take them after you have secured the SAT I or ACT score you desire.

Step #3: College Visits

You want to make sure you get a feel for the type of academic environments ideal to your growth and development before you craft your entire testing timeline around them!


June/July between Sophomore and Junior years: Try to do some of your college visits at this time to set your testing targets and complete all your requirements in a mellow, stress-free manner.

June/July between Junior and Senior years: Do the rest of your college visits at this time.

Step #4: College Application Process: The Activity List

This is where you break-down all of your passions, interests, community involvements, leadership positions, extra-curricular activities, jobs, volunteerism, sports, and talents so that the people in the admissions office know a) what you have to bring to the table at their institution and b) how exactly you’ve spent your time the past four years.  This is where you have the ability to explain some odd-ball hobbies and interests that make you YOU (competitive Pokemon, anyone?).  This is also where you get to demonstrate the actual number of hours you have devoted to your passions and the depth to which you have ventured to explore them.


July/August between Junior and Senior years: Start keeping a running tab of your activities, denoting the description, length of time you were involved, hours per week, leadership positions and notable accomplishments.

November 1st: This is the beginning of early decision application deadlines.

January 1st: Most regular decision deadlines are due around this time.

Step #5: College Application Process: Common App Essay

Formerly called the Personal Statement, you’ll use this essay for the Common App but can tweak it for applications that are NOT on the Common App, too. This is the main college entrance essay you will write that will give the readers in your dream school’s admissions office a glimpse into you, your hopes and dreams, your mind, your life, your accomplishments, your character, and your essence. All in under 650 impeccably-written words! Have fun!


July/August between Junior and Senior years: Start brainstorming and ideally have your first draft done before school starts.

November 1st: This is the beginning of early decision application deadlines.

January 1st: Most regular decision deadlines are due around this time.

Step #6: College Application Process: Supplemental Essays (Depends on School)

As delineated by the admission requirements of your particular dream schools, you very well may have additional “essays” to write and include in your application.  I say “essays” with quotation marks, because some are incredibly brief, like describing yourself in 5 words.  Stanford University has a supplemental essay like that.  In fact, Stanford has 10 supplemental essays! (Don’t worry, they’re not all mammoth.)


August 1st: The Common App opens.  You will be able to look up your list of colleges and compile all the supplemental essays you have to write.  Please plan ahead before you start typing away – can one essay for one school be marginally tweaked and reused for another supplemental essay?  Let’s be a little pragmatic, shall we?

November 1st: This is the beginning of early decision application deadlines.

January 1st: Most regular decision deadlines are due around this time.

So, yes, this DOES seem like a lot, and you may be wondering how I dared to claim these were “6 Easy-Peasy Steps”… But seriously, if you take a long-range look at these, there are a few tests, a few trips, and a few essays that just need to happen at a few designated times.  If you start doing what you can during Sophomore year and the beginning of Junior year, you will be sitting very pretty by the time those acceptance letters start rolling in.

I hope this was able to ease some of your high school stress and help you plan. Remember that though I’m able to offer this one-size-fits-most information for free, you can get more tailor-made advice by working with me. And if you found this helpful, please do me a huge favor and pass it on to 3 of your friends!



Kristina's Must Haves to Bring on Test Day



It's almost Test Day!  With the SAT coming up this weekend, aren't you excited?? I sure am!  And in an effort to mimic those celebrity Q&A’s where Cosmo asks Taylor Swift for the contents of her bag, I decided to do the same, in the form of a checklist.  So here are the contents that SHOULD be in YOUR bag before you leave the house this Saturday (or Sunday, if you observe the Sabbath) to take the SAT. This check list of what to bring on test day applies whenever you take an SAT or ACT.

7 Things to Bring on Test Day:

1. Your Admission Ticket! After all, you have to make sure you’re really registered for the SAT or ACT.  This should have your photo on it and necessary information so the testing Powers That Be don’t accidentally let in some 50-yr-old engineer dude sporting a pocket protector to take the test for 17-yr-old Kelly. The College Board and ACT get a bad rap when they let things like that happen.

2. Your Photo ID! This is the 2nd line of defense to make sure you are really you and not creepy previously-mentioned engineer dude.

3. Your Calculator!  Preferably a graphing calculator you are comfortable using. There are several from Texas Instruments, like the TI 83, TI 86, etc. Your calculator can be scientific and graphing, but it cannot connect to the Internet, be attached to a laptop or phone, or have a QWERTY keyboard. Please make sure you check the batteries to make sure they don’t run out on you… that totally BLOWS!

4. Pencils, pencils, and then more pencils. I always used to use mechanical pencils, but the SAT doesn’t like those for the Essay.  Feel free to use them for the multiple choice.  And make sure the eraser actually erases, please.

5. Layers of clothing.  I don’t care if it’s 20 degrees right now, you ever know which testing center (i.e. high school) is going to be too cheap to use the heat, or so over-zealous as to cook you alive.  The same fear abounds when it’s sweltering out.  Some places will freeze you to over-compensate, while others try to save on their AC bill and hope your sweating and panting doesn’t force you to bubble outside the cute little circles. The best remedy? Dress in layers that you can remove or add on as needed. A trusty hoody is great for this.

6. Water. If you’re taking a 4 hr long SAT, you really need to make sure you don’t get dehydrated.  Do you know what happens when you get dehydrated, little SAT Vixen? That’s right: you get tired. Or else you start getting thirsty on a conscious level, in which case your random thoughts are “I’m thirsty! When is this section over?!” – while you reread that short passage 4 times in a loop because you can’t hold your focus.  You get the idea. Just hydrate.

7. Snacks.  Guess what’s worse than getting thirty or deciding you need to use the restroom the moment the math section starts? Getting hungry rumblings in your tummy.  Not only is it embarrassing when everyone looks searchingly around the room to uncover the source of your loud hunger pangs, but the moment you notice you’re hungry, it’s too late! You’re now thinking of that instead of cross-multiplying those proportions.  Bring something nourishing and easy to eat, like a Luna bar or an apple, and eat a little bit during each of your breaks to keep your blood sugar and energy (and thus, focus) steady.

So, now that you’re ready, good luck and show that SAT who's boss!!

I love being able to help as many high schoolers as possible reach their testing goals, so if you've found this list of what to bring on test day at all useful, please pass it along to 3 of your friends!



Page Turn Zen: My Favorite Secret to Overcoming Test Anxiety (that can instantly increase your score by hundreds of points)



In all the testing frenzy that goes on Junior and Senior years, there is a lot of attention that goes intolearning vocab, grammar rules, and math concepts.  There is a lot of attention paid to testing strategy, when to guess, how many questions to attempt in order to earn a certain score, and the like.

However, even after mastering all of these topics and strategies, some of you may still struggle to increase your SAT or ACT score.  What gives?!

It’s called test anxiety. And nobody talks about it.

It’s not your fault that you might be struggling with this problem.  Most test prep programs and tutoring companies use what I like the call the “brute force” method: throw more practice problems and work-for-work’s-sake your way in hopes that you will eventually improve your score.

They don’t realize that psychology is half the battle.  And no matter how well you know your stuff, if you are one of the many students affected by test anxiety, then you know first-hand how all the new material you learned just seems to fly out the window the moment the timer starts and the proctor says, “You may begin.”

I see this all the time, and it can take many forms:

  • Bright students who second- and third-guess themselves, often changing their correct answers to incorrect choices out of fear,
  • Juniors and Seniors feeling so much pressure that they over-analyze themselves to death during a test,
  • Students who exhaust so many of their mental resources worrying, that they don’t even finish the section at hand.  This happens especially with math-phobic students!

So what can you do if this is you?

Enter Mental Mastery Technique #2: “Page Turn Zen”

You probably agree that if you’re going to give an amazing SAT or ACT performance, you need to calm down.  You need to focus.  And the best way to do that is simply to be present. In the moment. In your body.

And here’s what you’re going to do to get there:

1)   At the beginning of each section of the test, and every time you are about to turn the page (hence the name), STOP.

2)   Close your eyes.

3)   Take 3 deep breaths.

4)   The entire time you are breathing, notice where you feel the breath in your body.

Let’s analyze this a moment, shall we?

1)   I like having my students begin each section with a clear head.  Thus, I think that starting each section (especially the essay section) with a few seconds of centering activity is ideal.

Sometimes, usually during a math section, students begin to tense up as the problems get increasingly harder.  This makes sense: there’s nothing like that very first problem you can’t solve to shake your confidence!  That’s why you are going to STOP and get back to reality at every page turn.

2)   You want to close your eyes to remind yourself that no one else in the testing room matters.  You are the master of your domain and of your trusty pink sweatpants.  For the 10 seconds when you do Page Turn Zen, not even the impending test question staring back at you from the page can bite.

3)   Taking three deep breaths is about the time it takes the average person to relax for 10 or 12 seconds.  If you feel nervous that three breaths will take too much time, then please time it with your iPhone stopwatch in advance of Test Day to assure yourself that you are not using up much more time than this.

You need to take slow breaths to slow down your heart rate, which might be out of control at the moment.  You need to take deep breaths to get oxygen to all the cells in your body – especially your brain cells!

4)   As you take your three breaths, you are going to focus on the physical sensations you actually feel in your body.  As in, do you feel sweat or warmth on your palms? A stretch in the back of your rib cage? A cold tingle on your upper lip as you exhale? A tickle in your nose as you inhale?  Try to pinpoint the actual, physical sensations as they occur.  Be the curious observer.  None of it is “right” or “wrong”, nor does it mean anything.

By keeping your attention singularly on your physical sensations for the 10+ seconds, you are getting back to the present moment, completely eradicating over-analysis and allowing yourself to get back to your natural state: smart, resourceful, quick, and clever.

To get the best results, you are going to want to start practicing this as soon as you can, in every situation that presents itself! Doing math homework? Practice Page Turn Zen before and during your page turns.  Doing history homework?  Stop and do Page Turn Zen whenever you are turning a page or writing onto the next page of your notebook.  Doing practice questions of any sort, for your SAT/ACT prep or even for your Driver’s Ed test? Do Page Turn Zen.

Soon, this practice will be so ingrained that you immediately do it and will not have to think about it.  And THAT’s how you end up increasing your score by leaps and bounds and utilizing all the knowledge you’ve collected in that pretty brain of yours. ;)

So, while people pay top dollar for my services, I’m giving you this advice for free, because I’m committed to seeing you get into the college of your dreams.  And while this test anxiety tip doesn’t cost you anything, if you found this helpful, please do me a favor and share it with 3 friends.

The 4 Best Ways To Improve Your Vocab: Part IV



Vocab Hack #4: Supplement With The Tried And True

The last installment of my 4-part Vocab Hack Series is a list of the more traditional tutor-approved methods for increasing vocabulary.  These might not be as much fun as the other methods, but I would be remiss to leave them out.  For your sanity, you probably only want to try one of them…

Try a Vocab-building book:

My favorite vocabulary book – if you are a fan of straight-up learning vocab – is Hotwords for the SAT by Barron’s.  The reason I prescribe this book so often is that it manages to teach 500 SAT vocabulary words by “clumping” them together into 32 or so clusters of words.

The idea is that instead of learning 1 word + 1 definition (= 2 things to memorize) for every word you learn, you instead learn 1 definition + a group of 12+ words that have that basic definition.

Thus, to learn a dozen vocab words the old way, you’d need to learn 12 words + their 12 meanings = 24 things to remember.  The Hotwords way, you would only need to remember the 12 words + 1 definition they all have in common = only 13 things to remember.

See how much time that saves?  In addition, you will surely know some of the words in each cluster, so you end up using the words you know as an anchor to remember the other words that are new.  Super easy peasy.

Try a Vocab-building website:

If you’re more into on-line stuff, there is a plethora of newly created resources out there, and I have known some students to have success with Quizlet.  Check it out, and if that’s not your style, Google “vocab games” and you’ll surely find something else worthwhile.

Get back to Latin:

Latin roots, that is.  You can find a standard list of roots, prefixes and suffixes in the back of most test-prep books, or for free if you Google.  You will instinctively know several already, and the ones you know will anchor the new ones.


And last but not least, for whatever reason, some students really love the feeling of completion that comes with flashcards.  My advice?  If you go this route, separate your cards into three piles: those you totally know already, those that might as well be Greek (or Japanese, if you, like me, ARE Greek), and those you kinda feel you should know but don’t.

  • The first pile: place somewhere conspicuous in your room, like on your nightstand or near your desk.  This makes it appear as if you are actively learning vocab words and the ‘rents tend to like this.
  • The Greek pile: put back in the box and abandon on the bookshelf.  If you get exceedingly bored of Dawson’s Creek, you can take these out at a later date.
  • The middle-of-the-road pile is the low-hanging fruit that will take the least amount of effort to turn into usable knowledge. LEARN THESE FIRST.  Then add them to the first pile of words you know.

And on that note, you should be all set to rapidly expand your vocab and rack up tons of extra point on the SAT and ACT!  And remember, if you found this at all helpful, do me a HUGE favor and tell three of your friends!



The 4 Best Ways To Improve Your Vocab: Part III


Vocab Hack #3: Watch Smarter TV and Movies

Let me tell you a little story. When I was your age, living in Dallas, Texas, I woke up one morning at the beginning of sophomore year and decided I wasn’t going to consume any culture that wasn’t “productive”.  In fact, I was convinced most books, shows, and movies were designed to make the masses dumber, so I tried to steer clear of anything that could potentially compromise my life’s Grand Plan.

I spent the next three years driving my friends and classmates crazy, refusing to read fiction, watch TV or see mainstream movies.  At the time, there were only two independent movie theatres in town – the UA Cine and the Inwood Theatre – and each only ever showed two movies concurrently.  I think I saw everything from The Red Violin to Existenz and Happiness.  Some were whoppers, but my self-righteousness persisted.

Jump cut to now.  I happily watch the likes of Vampire Diaries, Revenge, The Mindy Project, Glee, even reruns of MIOBI.  And I discovered something shocking: Not All TV Is Bad!  In fact, you if must spend time in front of the “boob tube”, I have discovered the singular most vocabulary-boosting show that will quench your thirst for teen melodrama:


I am soooo not joking here.  After missing the show when it first aired out of intellectual snobbery, I recently decided to make up for lost time. First of all, I was shocked at how eloquent and self-expressive the main characters are.  And just to test my hypothesis, I watched the majority of Season 2 with a pen and paper in hand only to discover that some episodes utilized up to 37 SAT-level vocabulary words! Not shabby for 43 minutes of indulgence.

So get thee to a Netflix account and introduce yourself to Dawson, Joey, Jen and Pacey!!

And finally, if the last three Vocab Hacks still haven’t gotten you where you desire to go, continue to Vocab Hack #4.