Monthly Archives

May 2017

Nurturing the Abilities of the Gifted Child

By | Enrichment, Gifted & Talented

Has your child recently been identified as gifted? Have you noticed that your child is more developmentally advanced than his or her peers? Does your child have superior abilities in cognitive, artistic, physical, musical or other areas of higher sensitivity?

Parents can help to foster the gifted child’s insatiable appetite for exploration, learning, and experimentation by offering experiences, and not just focusing on skill and drill.

Offering children opportunities to explore the world around them keeps them engaged and taps into their natural sense of curiosity. Imagine delving into chemistry with your five year old by mixing a solution of water and cornstarch to create “goop”—is it a solid, is it a liquid? Try it together and find out! Try working with your eight year old to explore the systems of the human body—buy a 3-D set and take it apart and put it back together as a puzzle. Can you and your child begin to name the functions of the internal organs? Stronger foundations for learning are built with hands-on activities than by solely reading about facts in a book.

Don’t forget about the benefits that your family vacation may provide. Family trips to Florida or the Caribbean can address interest in marine biology. If your child is old enough, take advantage of children’s programs that may encourage discovery of coral and other marine life. A family adventure snorkeling can provide the same benefit. Exploring new cities whether at home in the US or abroad can satisfy a curiosity about people and cultures. A trip to the American Southwest can incorporate learning about the Apache, Hopi, Navajo, and Zuni. Journeying to Italy and exploring the ancient ruins of Pompeii can be fun and engaging for the curious teenager (and the rest of the family as well!)

How do you provide ongoing enrichment to your gifted child? We’d love to hear about it!

College Entrance Exams Explained

By | College Bound, Estelle Finkel

For many students, college is right around the corner. With test scores being a necessary part of the application process, many students and their parents may be confused by the many tests that are required. Below is a brief overview of the tests that colleges often require. Keep in mind, not all colleges require all tests and a score does not necessarily make or break an acceptance.

SAT (also referred to as SAT I – Reasoning Test)

The SAT is a 3-hour-and-45-minute test that assesses a students’ ability to succeed in college. It tests a student’s basic knowledge of subjects they have learned in the classroom — such as reading, writing, and mathematics — in addition to evaluating how they think, solve problems, and communicate through writing. The test consists of three sections that are divided into nine separately timed subsections, including a 25-minute student-written essay.

SAT Subject Tests (also known as SAT II)

Subject tests measure your knowledge of a specific subject in areas of Math, English, Languages, the Sciences, History, and more. Some colleges will require that you take either one, two, or even three subject tests. There are 20 subject tests to choose from although some colleges will require you to take specific ones. It’s best to take a subject test right after a course has been completed so that the material is fresh in your mind. For languages, it’s best to take the subject test after several years of the language have been studied.


The ACT is an achievement test that measures what a student has actually learned in school. Subjects tested are English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, with an optional writing test. The ACT consists of 215 multiple-choice questions and takes roughly 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete, including a short break (or just over four hours if you are taking the ACT plus Writing).

So, what are the differences between the SAT and the ACT?

  • The ACT is an achievement test that measures what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test that assesses reasoning and verbal abilities.
  • The ACT has up to 5 parts: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and includes an optional Writing Test. The SAT has only 3 parts: Critical Reasoning (Reading), Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.
  • The SAT has a penalty for guessing which means they take points off for wrong answers. Conversely, the ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing.


The PSAT (or Preliminary SAT) was designed to be a practice for the SAT. It is now also used as an assessment tool to gain acceptance into National Merit Scholarship programs and known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT). The PSAT assesses the same areas as the SAT does but does not have an essay section. The “Writing” section assesses grammar by way of sentence completion and sentence editing.

De-Stressing the College Search

By | College Bound

Parents often ask, “When is the best time to begin the college planning process? Should we be talking about colleges with our children while they are still in middle school? Is it better to hold off until freshman year in high school? Or should we wait until the guidance counselor makes the first move?

What to do and when to do it are important questions, but fortunately the answers are less complicated than you may think. And the good news is that if you follow some simple guidelines, taking them step by step over time, what can be a very stressful experience becomes, instead, a period of exploration and intriguing options for everyone involved.

It helps to think of the college admission process in 4 parts: 1) financial planning; 2) building a strong academic and extracurricular record; 3) researching and compiling a list of colleges and universities to consider; and 4) completing the application process.

Let’s look briefly at each segment:

Step One: Think about finances

Some parents and grandparents begin saving for a child’s college education as soon as the child is born. Others decide that when the time comes, they will tap other savings and rely heavily on financial aid, choosing only among the most affordable colleges. This is a personal decision, but my recommendation is to read about your options sooner rather than later. You may want to consider a 529 Plan, specifically designed to save for college. Many people select this option, but you should understand it fully before committing, as there are important restrictions built into the plans. The Best Way to Save for College; A Complete Guide to 529 Plans, 2011-2012 by Joseph F. Hurley is a good place to start.

As time draws closer, your son or daughter should research college scholarship opportunities through the high school guidance department and the internet. Guidance counselors usually keep a file of local scholarship opportunities for which seniors and sometimes juniors can apply. These may include the Rotary Club, Women’s Club, and Parent/Teacher Association in your town, to name just a few. The website will answer many of your financial aid questions and help your child with other scholarship searches, including a link to

Step Two: Build a strong academic and extra-curricular record

This begins officially in the freshman year of high school. Colleges do not review a child’s elementary or middle school report cards, nor do they ask for information on extracurricular activities prior to grade 9. However, it’s important to realize that much of what students accomplish in high school begins in childhood and the pre-teen years. Everything from an interest in reading, a
fascination with history, a love of numbers and science and technology, as well as enthusiasm for sports, the arts and service to others — all these and more may become evident and should be nurtured at an early age.

Remember, though, that colleges are no longer focused solely on the “well-rounded” applicant. (They now care more about a well-rounded class of applicants.) If your son or daughter genuinely enjoys a wide range of activities, that’s fine for a while. Inevitably, though, you’ll see that the pressures of doing well in an appropriately challenging high school curriculum require giving up some activities. Thus, the girl who has been taking dance lessons since she was 6, along with gymnastics, art classes, and horseback riding, will probably want to play sports in high school, perhaps star in the spring musical, and make the honor roll every marking period. Some things will have to go! Happily, you will learn that colleges are much more interested in students who pursue a single “passion” or two, in depth, rather than those who spread themselves so thin that they cannot delve deeply into any of their talents.

With regard to academics, students should tackle the most challenging course load they can handle throughout all 4 years of high school. If a regular college preparatory (CP) curriculum is appropriate based on previous grades, standardized test scores, and motivation, then that is what your child should take. If he or she is particularly strong in English, for instance, perhaps that is the subject to consider for honors and advanced placement (AP) courses as time goes on. You will hear over and over again that the colleges are seeking honors and AP courses, and you will feel the pressure to have your child sign up for those. AP Chemistry or AP European History may be a good decision, but be sure that choice is made for the right reasons. There are fine colleges for
average, above-average, and outstanding students. The most important consideration is always whether a particular college and a particular student are a “good match.”

Step Three: Research and compile a college list

Gathering this information is something that parents may want to begin on their own before their child is ready to talk about it. That’s fine. Just do it in private! You may find it enlightening to search the web for information about colleges and visit their individual websites. But in my experience as a high school counselor, working closely with families throughout this process, too much
information too soon can be very stressful for students. I’ve had sophomores and juniors burst into tears in my office because they “can’t stand to hear another word about college” from their parents. When the time is right, though, your son or daughter will be likely to welcome and appreciate your input and understanding.

To learn about colleges, the large college guides published by Barron’s and Princeton Review are well worth perusing. Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges is probably the most widely used college directory. It gives college-bound students information and guidance to help them match their academic plans and aptitudes with the admission requirements and academic programs
of every accredited four-year college in the country. Be sure you use the most recent edition (2012). The Princeton Review guide is smaller, targeting what its title states are The Best 376 Colleges. As a counselor who focuses on the college search, I am never without the Fiske Guide to the Colleges, not as comprehensive as Barron’s, but my personal favorite for its readable format,
honest and professional approach. (No gimmicks here!)

Another useful book is Admissions Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting into College, by Sally Springer, Jon Reider, and Marion Franck. This resource helps guide students and their parents as they sift through their choices and work their way through the entire college admissions process.

Most high schools begin the college search with juniors in the beginning of their second semester. Some guidance counselors will meet with parents, as well, but all should be helping students create a realistic list of “reach,” “good match,” and “safety schools to which they will apply. Your son or daughter may need to speak with the counselor beyond regularly scheduled appointments from time to time. Although they are busy, guidance counselors understand the college admissions process thoroughly and students should look to them for advice.

Step Four: Complete the application process

As a final step, it encompasses many tasks over time. In order to apply to most colleges, students should take the PSAT, the SAT &/or ACT, and possibly SAT II subject tests and AP exams. The guidance counselor is again the person to advise your child on which tests to take and when to take them, but an essential website for students and parents, as well, is, where a wealth of information can be found. The College Board creates all of the above tests except for the ACT, so testing dates, test prep, the college search and more can be found at this site. Even freshmen and sophomores can benefit by becoming familiar with what this site has to offer.

For the student, completing the application process involves:

Making sure to take all required tests on schedule. This includes taking the AP exam after successfully completing an AP course in whatever year it is taken. If a student takes an AP Biology class as a sophomore and earns a high score on the exam that spring, he should send it with his college applications two years later.

Becoming very familiar with the colleges on your list. Frequent visits to the school’s website, selective emails and phone contacts with the admissions officer in charge of
your application, at least one in-person visit to the campus, which includes the official admissions office tour, and if possible, an overnight stay on campus arranged through the admissions office — all of these will help to set you apart as a candidate who may well say “yes” if accepted. (And that’s what the colleges want!)

Decide with the help of your parents and guidance counselor whether you should be applying Early Decision or Early Action to any of your schools. For many colleges, you have a somewhat better chance of acceptance if you take this route — assuming you are qualified, of course. If you have an absolute favorite, your credentials are a very good match with the school, and the financial aid situation is workable, you might earn admission before the second semester of senior year. What a great way to finish your high school experience!

Scheduling an interview with the admissions office, if one is offered. (This would be done ideally in conjunction with your college visit.) Preparing for the interview in advance is always a good idea. Even outgoing students who are generally at ease with others will benefit from a practice session with the guidance counselor or someone else who is familiar with the process. Although the interview may not be “evaluative” — that is, part of the decision-making process as to who is accepted — taking the time to appear in person lets the college know that you are truly
a serious, interested candidate.

Preparing a resume of extracurricular school and community activities. This should include all sports, clubs, activities and honors from grades 9 – 12, with an indication of the approximate amount of time spent on each. Examples of community activities are involvement in your church, temple, or mosque; volunteer work at a hospital, animal shelter, or town clean-up; summer sports and clinics, part-time jobs (paid or not), but there are many more possibilities. You should always be specific as to the nature of your involvement and point out any leadership roles you took on.

Taking time to write the best college essays you can possibly create. Yes, you will probably have to write more than one, so begin if you can in the summer before senior year. There are many helpful books and online resources which provide samples of successful essays, but the important thing to remember is to BE YOURSELF. Write in a voice that sounds comfortable to you — forget the thesaurus! —- and imagine that you are talking to the admissions counselor who is reading your essay. This is a very special part of your application, your chance to open a window to yourself as a person, revealing what the admissions committee could not learn from your transcript, resume, or letters of recommendation.

By the way, if you have a good sense of humor and your essay lends itself to that, use it! The counselors in the admissions offices read hundreds and hundreds of student essays, sometimes late into the night. Yours can be special in many ways, but never be afraid to lighten their load with a smile or two.

Carefully choosing the teachers and mentors who will write your letters of recommendation. Abide by the directions from each separate college. If you are supposed to send just one letter from an academic teacher, that’s what you do. If you are not sure what is meant by “academic teacher” — does AP Art count? — call or email your admissions counselor at the college to check. Ask your guidance counselor for advice about which teachers to ask for recommendations and how many other letters, if any, you should include. And by all means, ask early in the process. It’s unfair to request a letter from someone two weeks before the application is due.

Finally, taking advantage of the Common Application online at Notice, that’s org, not com! This is a wonderful timesaver, allowing you to apply to a number of member colleges all with one online application. I have found that even some colleges not listed on the site will still accept it, but if not, you need to use the individual college’s application on its own website.

After you have completed your application, proofread, proofread, and proofread again. You can’t trust Spell Check to catch every error. Go through the application slowly and carefully to be sure it’s perfect before you send it on its way.

Keep track of the deadlines for all applications and send yours in with enough time to spare so that you and your parents can get a good night’s sleep as often as possible during your senior year. You all deserve it!

My hope is that this article is reassuring to those of you who have been anxious about college admissions. It is true that the college search involves many steps and a good deal of time, but remember that getting a head start, making sure you’re organized and informed, and staying grounded will go a long way toward making the journey a successful one.

– Ellen Coburn
Guidance Counselor & Writing Coach

What Are the SAT Subject Tests?

By | College Bound

What are the SAT Subject Tests?

SAT Subject Tests are one-hour multiple choice tests that assess students’ knowledge in specific areas. Colleges use Subject Tests for admission, for course placement, and to help advise students about course selection. Even colleges that do not require the Subject Test will often review scores you submit and can get a better picture of you as an overall student.

Which colleges require the SAT Subject Tests?

Contact the colleges and universities to which you are applying or visit their websites. You may also consult the College Search section of the College Board website at for more information.

When should I take the SAT Subject Tests?

Ideally, you will take the SAT Subject Test immediately after completing the course in that area—typically toward the end of junior year or at the beginning of senior year. It’s important for the content to be fresh in your mind, especially for Subject tests in US History, World History, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Language tests should be taken after completing the highest level course you plan to take in that area, ideally after you have studied for several years.

SAT Subject Tests are given during the same dates as the SAT but not all Subject Tests are given on all SAT dates. No SAT Subject Tests are given in March. You may take up to three Subject Tests in one sitting but you may not take the SAT and Subject Tests on the same day. Click here to visit the College Board website for Subject Test dates.

Which Subject Tests are available?

English Literature, US History, World History, Math Level 1, Math Level 2, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French- Reading only or Reading and Listening, German, Reading only or Reading and Listening, Modern Hebrew- Reading only, Italian- Reading only, Latin- Reading only, Spanish- Reading only or Reading and Listening, Chinese Reading and Listening, Japanese Reading and Listening, Korean Reading and Listening.

Language tests with Listening have a listening section that takes about 20 minutes and a reading section that takes 40 minutes. The Listening Tests are only offered in November at certain test sites. Tests with Listening require you to bring a CD player (be sure it has fresh batteries).

You are required to use a calculator for the Mathematics Subject Tests only—these tests have been created with the expectation that students will use a graphing calculator.

The Biology E/M Test lets you choose either an Ecological emphasis or a Molecular emphasis in the same tests. For this test, you only answer questions for which you are best prepared. Of the 80 questions on this test, 60 are for everyone to take and the additional 20 will be with emphasis in either ecology or molecular biology.

Which Subject Test should I take?

If you feel you are particularly strong in a subject, you may want to consider taking a Subject Test in that area, if it is offered. Remember that even those colleges that don’t require Subject Tests may get a better picture of you as a student if they see your scores in a subject area that you know very well.

How can I prepare for the SAT Subject Tests?

Familiarize yourself with how the test is set up. Remember that all Subject Tests are one-hour multiple choice tests. Many students take SAT Preparation courses as well as SAT Subject Test preparation in advance of their tests. You may also wish to purchase practice books or take practice tests questions on-line. When taking a practice test, be sure to time yourself so that you can pace yourself to the one-hour time constraint.

For more information on SAT and Subject Tests, consult for more information.

Keep Learning this Summer!

By | SEE Camp

Consider the following statistics from an MSNBC article by Dr. Ruth Peters, who consulted the Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning:

  • All students experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.
  • On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills during the summer months.
  • Only approximately 10 percent of students nationwide participate in summer school or attend schools with non-traditional calendars.
  • A majority of students (56 percent) want to be involved in a summer program that “helps kids keep up with schoolwork or prepare for the next grade.”
  • Research shows that teachers typically spend between 4-6 weeks re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer.
  • At least 11 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 12 care for themselves over the summer months (unsupervised).

What can parents do?

Talk with your kids. Find out what activities they would like to do and then balance that with activities you would like them to do. Summer camps are great, but you have to find the right one – some kids will be more interested in Space Camp or Music Camp; others will prefer Soccer or Basketball Camp.

Yet, more importantly, you need to schedule a daily routine with your kids. Talk about what they should be doing when they are alone and unsupervised. Other than chores and family duties, make sure your kids are reading and schedule it into their day. Most teachers suggest a minimum of 30 minutes daily, even for elementary students.

For students who struggled in the previous school year, tutoring may the answer. Students can make more progress at a more rapid pace working one-on-one with a tutor, and the summer months are the perfect time to catch up to grade-level and prepare for the challenges they will face in the upcoming year. Tutoring is also ideal for advanced students who need to be challenged academically or those who want to explore academic subjects at their own pace.

Estelle Finkel offers a fantastic summer reading program for kids entering kindergarten and first-grade, called Reading Rockstars. You can read more about it, and register for the summer session here. For older kids, Estelle Finkel offers a variety of summer tutoring options.

Whatever you plan with your children this summer, make sure to become involved yourself. Show an interest in their intrigues, support them in their struggles, and reward them in their progress.

Whatever you do, keep your children engaged in activities and spend as much time together as possible over the summer.

The Benefits of Tutoring

By | Estelle Finkel

Research from the New Jersey Department of Education suggests that quality tutoring can benefit students in a number of ways, including:

  • Improving student work habits. By building on the learning that takes place during the school day, tutoring can help students improve planning, organizing and the way they approach learning, projects and assignments.
  • Personalization. Since instruction is delivered individually or in small groups, tutoring provides for immediacy of feedback.
  • More time-on-task. Tutoring allows students to receive additional help and reinforcement for learning skills and provides additional opportunities to practice the application of information.
  • Meeting specific student needs. Tutoring can offer students individual attention to help them learn in different and perhaps more effective ways in a smaller group environment. A tutor also provides an additional academic interaction focused on the individual student.
  • Reducing non-productive or risky behaviors. Tutoring offers students a safe, supportive environment out of school and can help them make productive use of their time.
  • Improving social and behavioral skills. Tutoring programs can support students as they develop confidence that helps them in the classroom. They can become better communicators, make positive social and behavioral adjustments, form better relations with peers, and exercise more effective conflict-resolution strategies.
  • Increased ability to manage one’s own learning. As competency grows, confidence in academic performance increases. This is often seen in a positive shift in attitude toward the content area and school in general.

How is the SAT Changing for 2016?

By | College Bound, Estelle Finkel

CollegeBoard, creators of the SAT, have officially announced that they are redesigning the entrance exam. This is in response to long-term criticisms from teachers, students, parents, and colleges that highlight flaws in the test. The SAT has been known for its use of rare vocabulary words, tricky questions, and the guessing penalty, among other issues including the anxiety it causes students hoping to get into the college of their choice. The overhaul, set to take effect in the spring semester of 2016, is targeting these issues and making the exam more relevant to the classroom experience.

What is changing?

The Score Scale. The SAT is going from a 2400 scale to 1600.

The Essay. The essay will now be optional, and based on a passage. The prompt will be the same every time, but a new passage will be given for the students to analyze. The time for the essay will be extended beyond the current 25 minutes to allow for reading, planning, writing and editing.

The Reading and Writing Questions. These questions will challenge student’s ability to interpret and analyze passages, while answering questions that require them to provide evidence for their answers.

The Math Questions. The math questions will focus more on algebra, problem solving and data analysis. The context for the questions will be more related to real world application.

What is being removed?

Guessing Penalty. There will be no reduction in points for incorrect answers on the new test.

Obscure Vocabulary. The word choices will be more practical and more like words used in college and career environments, rather than words only seen on the SAT.

What is being added?

Founding documents. Pieces such as the Bill of Rights or the Constitution will appear on the SAT, as well as important texts touching on subjects such as justice and freedom.

A first look at sample questions from the redesigned SAT will be available on the CollegeBoard website in mid-April, 2014.

Tips to Help Motivate Your Child in School

By | Estelle Finkel

Stuck for ideas on how to motivate your child to perform better in school? Read on…

Lack of motivation is a common issue with young students who do poorly in school. As parents, we all know it’s important to help inspire your child to put the best effort forth into learning and performing well in school.

Understanding why your child has trouble getting motivated and taking an active role in encouraging him or her to study and complete assignments are key in helping your child succeed.

Why the lack of inspiration?

Don’t assume that your child is “just lazy.” While this might have some truth to it, there could be underlying issues that are hindering them from trying their best. Self-esteem plays a big role in student motivation, while feelings of academic inadequacy often prevent students from really working to their ability. Other students feel anxious about the demands placed on them, either due to a fear of failure or pressure to be the best. This anxiety can be quite paralyzing. It is important to identify the reason behind your child’s lack of motivation so you can get to the source of the problem.

Tackle the problem directly

If your child has a stable self-esteem, and doesn’t really feel anxious about school, they just need a reason to work. Delay privileges until homework is done. Offer dinner out, time with friends, movies, video game time, or whatever your child likes as the prize at the end of the schoolwork marathon.

To deal with stress and overwhelmed feelings, break down projects and homework tasks into smaller, manageable segments. Allow kids to take breaks, and let them know it is not necessary for them to be perfect. Emphasize that they ought to try their best, but they shouldn’t feel pressured to outperform a sibling or deliver A+ grades on a daily basis. If they need help with the material they are learning in school, talk to the teacher or hire a tutor who can assist them one on one. Support and understanding go a long way.

Bond with your child

Connect with your child on a personal level by talking about their interests and their concerns. Strive to develop a deeper relationship. From this bond it will become clear to them that (when you stress the importance of studying for that test or finishing that homework assignment) you care about their success. Encourage them to develop talents, make friends, and explore creative interests as well as hit the books. Remember that your son or daughter is a whole person, not just a student.