Estelle Finkel

Prepare for the PSAT and Beyond

By | College Bound, Estelle Finkel

Now that the PSATs are done it’s time to plan a testing schedule.

Each year, roughly 1.5 million students take the SAT and roughly the same number of students take the ACT each year as well. Most college bound students need to take one of these tests to showcase their academic abilities and gain admission to the college of their choosing. It’s important to prepare for the PSAT and beyond. (Curious about test optional colleges? Click here.)

Scheduling early and planning your test dates are important parts of the college planning process. We can help make this task easier by pointing out significant factors and important considerations in making a testing schedule that best fits your needs.

Consider the following:

1. When am I free to actually put in the time to study? Do I have extracurriculars like theater or sports that are taking up a lot of my time in certain months? See SAT and ACT upcoming test dates here.

2. Students who take the exams more than once have several advantages. Schedule yourself to take the test at LEAST 2-3 times. Choose these dates based on your schedule and when you have time to prep. You will see the greatest increase after test 1. (Testing schedules can look like this: For example, If SAT- March, June, August or December, March, May… If ACT- Feb, June, July, or Feb, April, June)

3. Choose your course of preparation. Keep in mind that in our area of the state/country our schools are major “sending” schools as we are very competitive and have a high rate of students going to college. The best preparation is the one that is most intensive and will give you the tools you need for the duration of your study time. Students often put in 40+ hours (including prep sessions, homework, practice tests) before their first test.

4. Start early. For high moderate to advanced students you should begin as early as possible. There is a myth going around that says to delay testing. If you have completed Algebra 2 you are ready to go. If you are currently taking Algebra 2, you may wish to start a bit later but keep in mind that the earlier you start, the better in most cases.  For average to below average students, waiting until Alg 2 is complete may be the best option.

5. Set goals: Once you take your first test, or after your PSAT, decide on how much you want to increase. Make smaller chunked goals for each testing date based on your overall goal. For example, if you want to improve on the SAT by 150 points, shoot for 50-75 point increase on each test. Break it down by section to make even smaller goals.

6. Finish testing early. Try to wrap up your testing by October Senior year AT THE LATEST. We advise trying to wrap it up even earlier for most of our students. Data shows that most selective colleges admit the greatest number of students during early decision and early action. If you are serious about a school, don’t wait until general application time, it may be too late.

7. Start looking at schools you may be interested in. Naviance and College Board both have search capabilities that are extremely user friendly and provide the info you need. Type in a few schools that you’ve always wondered about. Take a look at the “applying” section on College Board’s Big Future site. You will see the score ranges for SAT and ACT so you know what to aim for. Also look for what other requirements schools have listed. Do you need the SAT Subject tests? Do you need the SAT or ACT essay?

At Estelle Finkel Center for Learning, we offer the best in preparation for the ACT and SAT exams. Our experienced staff of educators take you from test prep to college admission with our concierge-like service.

Have additional questions or ready for test prep? Call us at 973-994-4665 or email our educational director at for more information.

Getting Organized Successfully

By | Estelle Finkel

Organization is the Key to Success

Organization is truly a lost art. Getting organized successfully can translate into a healthy home life and better academic performance. It’s true, technological advancements have enhanced our lives over the last 20 years. The best organizational strategies, however, are tried and true old-fashioned methods.

Below is a list of five effective organizational strategies:

  1. Set up a Designated Study Space — Create an area of your house just for homework. Keep all the supplies your children need in bins and boxes. Provide plenty of space for books and set up baskets for papers so your child can find old homework and review for tests.
  2. Color Code Subjects — Buy school supplies for each subject in a different color. This way your children can see at a glance which folder, notebook, and binder has to do with which subject.
  3. Create a Cubby Hole at Home — Place a crate or sturdy box near someplace handy which allows your children to keep their backpacks and other school items in one spot. Teach your children to put everything they need for the next day in that place, as well. They’ll know where their belongings are without the need to search frantically, saving you time in the morning.
  4. Use a Calendar — Give your children a planner or an electronic calendar that they can bring to school. Teach them to write down assignments, tests, play dates, lessons, and other plans regularly. Additionally, have them write down their classmates’ phone numbers and e-mail addresses. This allows your child to find and contact their classmates easily.
  5. Set a Good Example — Keep things neat and organized in your own life. Your children will follow suit. If they have trouble making “to-do” lists, sit down and make one alongside them. Turning off the TV at a regular time to pay bills, or even just to read, demonstrates the importance of setting aside time to be productive and sticking to it.

Back to school tips that best prepare you for college!

By | College Bound, Estelle Finkel

College Admissions tips to get you ready for the new school year. This means you: Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors!

Read our tips that will help you get ready, whether you are a Freshman just on your way to high school, or a Senior counting down the months til college.


Finalize your college application list and visit a few more colleges early this fall. If you visited over the summer, keep in mind you will get a better idea of student life when schools is back in session!

Get the most out of College Visits


If you haven’t already, start thinking seriously about your extracurricular activities and how they represent who you really are. If you are inclined to take leadership roles, start working to hone those skills. Junior year is one of the most important years for you. Begin an SAT or ACT prep class and take the exam at least twice. Get a realistic idea of what kinds of scores they schools you like are really looking for. College Board’s Big Future site has a great college search feature that shows you what schools are looking for.

What are the test scores colleges are looking for?



Freshman year has passed and you have a better idea of what to expect in high school. You should be honing in on your study skills which are essential for success in high school and college.  Not feeling too confident? Sign up for a study skills workshop or follow a checklist to give you a head start this fall.

Study Skills Checklist?



High School, here I come!! Get yourself prepared by purchasing school supplies, shop for back to school outfits so you look spiffy, and finish summer reading. Visit your high school before school starts to find your locker, practice your locker combination, and map out where your classes are located. Speaking of maps, now is a great time to begin thinking about how you are going to map out your classes for the rest of high school. Colleges really want to see that you are taking the highest level classes you can achieve in.  Not sure whether to take AP, honors, or standard classes? Read on for a guide that will help you plan ahead!

Which high school classes should you be taking


Happy to help.

We can help you on your way from test prep to college acceptance. Our new College Bound program offers you “bundles” which address SAT/ACT prep either in a class or individually, as well as college advisory that includes matching you to the right schools, and college essay and application help. Let us know what you are looking for and we will make it happen! Call us or contact us online or via email. 973-994-4665.

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.

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.