10 Secrets of Highly Effective High School Students

Successful people have habits. Successful high school students have habits. While they may not be secrets, not everyone knows or understands these important habits. My goal is to share the wealth. Here are some of the most helpful strategies I have learned over my *illustrious* high school career. 

1. Writing it Down

When in doubt, write it down. Your teacher said something you didn’t understand – write it down. You thought of an interesting idea for an essay – write it down. You don’t understand how to do a certain problem – write it down. Keeping a log of questions and/or ideas will help you when you have a chance to ask your teacher. Also, it can shave off time brainstorming an essay when you’ve already come up with a couple ideas. 

2. Using a Planning System

I say system because depending on who you are that may look different. I’m planning a blog post on various different planning systems, but the fundamental underlying idea here is to keep track of your assignments. Don’t be the person who is constantly asking what the homework is. No one likes that person. That person gets ignored. Don’t be that person. 

3. Establishing Positive Relationships with Your Teachers

Your teachers are your friends. Treat them with kindness and respect even if you don’t really like them. For example, I hated one of my teachers (truly the most incompetent person I’ve ever met), but I was still nice to him and he bumped my final grade up from a B+ to an A-. Moral of the story: be nice to your teachers. Also, if your teachers have a good impression of you, they’ll be more likely to give you extensions on assignments and generally make your life easier. 

4. Learning How to Talk with Adults

You have to learn how to advocate for yourself. Once, I got the first step of an 8 part question wrong. Consequently, the rest of the problem was wrong. My teacher took off half credit for the entire problem. I lost about 15 points on an 80-something point test. When I got my test back, I asked him to give me points back on the questions that I got wrong but had the correct process. In the end, I convinced him that my score didn’t reflect my knowledge of the subject. He agreed and ultimately ended up giving me about 10-12 of the 15 (lost) points back on my test. It raised my grade significantly. Being able to have these sometimes difficult conversations with your teachers will only help you in the long term. 

5. Never Being Afraid to Send an Email

This one is two fold: one don’t have a stupid email like soccergurl201@yahoo.com. That’s just a bad idea. It was fine when you’re ten, but now you’re in high school. Eventually, you’ll likely be using your email to contact college admissions representatives and future employers. Give yourself a professional email. You should aim to include your first name and last name in your email address if possible. If you must include numbers, consider using the last two digits of the year you’ll graduate high school. Second: Check your email. As a high schooler, you should get into the habit of checking your email at least once per day. Lastly, err on the side of formality. Your teacher won’t be offended by an extra “please” or “thank you”, but they will be by the lack of such pleasantries. When in doubt, say it in the most polite way possible and move on. Remember the worst that can happen is your teacher says no. For example, I asked my APUSH teacher if there were any opportunities for extra credit via email. She told me no, but said she appreciated the politeness of my email. That was my worst-case scenario, and it wasn’t really that bad at all. 

6. Finding What Times You Work Best and Modifying Your Schedule Accordingly

I learned in my freshman year that I work best in the mornings. For me, my brain begins shutting down for the day at 1pm. From there, my concentration and pretty much everything else just gets steadily worse. By the time I get home at 4 o’clock on a normal day or 6 o’clock on a day with extracurriculars, I’m exhausted. Generally, I’ll only have energy for less taxing homework such as Spanish vocabulary worksheets, textbook notes, or easy readings for English class. I do this stuff first. Then I’ll try to go to bed as early as possible so I can wake up around 5:00-5:30AM to finish the more mentally taxing homework such as chemistry and math problem sets. I also make sure to always have at least 4 study halls per week each semester to ensure I’ll have at least an hour at school each day to get some work (or sleep) in. 

7. Learning How to Take Organized Notes

This is super important. It is the underlying foundation of your academic career. Students must be able to take their teacher’s words and the texts from the various sources (slide shows, textbooks, readings) and condense it into a useful study guide. Having good notes aids this process. 

8. Using Outside Resources

This is really helpful when you are struggling in a class. For example, in my AP Chemistry class, I always needed extra practice. I used the textbook and found an AP Chemistry test bank pdf online. Now, I had extra opportunities to practice and identify weak spots. For a history class, that could mean looking up timelines or articles to make sure you understand exactly what happened and why. If you don’t know the answer, look it up! Most teachers will appreciate that you tried to find the answer yourself and only came to them when you were stuck. That shows your teacher that you took initiative and care about your studies.

9. Paying Attention in Class or at least Attending Class

Most of us have to pay attention in class to understand what’s happening. For some people, they can go to class, fall asleep and still get straight As. I am not one of those people, at least, not in most subjects. I do love a good nap in Spanish though! Even if you don’t want to, just go to class. Even if you don’t pay attention to the vast majority of the lecture, at least you absorbed a tiny bit of information and got marked present. Sometimes that’s the best you can do, and that’s fine. 

10. Forming Mutually Beneficial Relationships with Classmates

This is so important! You need to make friends in your class. These are the people who you will create study guides with, quiz each other with before big tests, complete projects with, and more. These people don’t have to be your best friends, but they can be extremely useful. For example, I have a great friend, Sophie, who was in my US History class. Anytime I missed class, she sent me the notes from class, and when she was out, I sent her the notes. Over time, Sophie and I have become great friends, but it all really started with having Freshman World History together. 

Good luck!



What You Need to Know to Crush the SAT: Reading Edition

Honestly, the reading and writing part was the easiest for me. It’s also one of the hardest parts to prepare for (or for which to prepare if you’re really into grammar).

My First and Best Tip: 

Read, Read, Read!

You should practice reading high level articles, books, and such to prepare yourself. I’d recommend reading from the following publications

  • The New Yorker
  • The Atlantic
  • The New York Times (specially the Saturday Essays)
  • Foreign Affairs
  • The Council on Foreign Relations
  • The Washington Post
  • The Wall Street Journal

You should also challenge yourself by reading some fiction. Here are some books my English teacher recommended:

  • Wuthering Heights – Bronte
  • Invisible Man – Ellison
  • Infinite Jest – DF Wallace (This one is a beast at over a thousand pages!)
  • The House of Mirth – Wharton
  • Another Country – Baldwin
  • The Recognitions – Gaddis
  • Americanah – Adichie
  • A Gesture Life – Lee
  • The Good Earth – Buck

You may also want to review the SAT vocabulary words especially if you feel that you don’t have a very robust vocabulary.

Here’s a link to a list you should definitely check out by PrepScholar.com, one of my favorite websites for all things test prep.

You may also want to review grammar rules. Here’s the link to the book my school recommended.

To improve your grammar, try talking like you write. Often, we talk in a modern vernacular, but when we write, we do so in a different academic writing style. By attempting to talk as if you’re writing an academic paper, you force yourself to pay close attention to your grammar. I tend do this to make sure I avoid run-on sentences when speaking.

Good luck and remember the College Board IS the devil.





What You Need to Know to Crush the SAT: Math Edition

f What You Need To Know To Crush The SAT_ math edition

Here is the second installment in my series on test taking and prep strategies for the SAT. My parents paid an arm and a leg for SAT prep, so your parents won’t have to! 😉

General Test Taking Tips

Test questions are ordered from easiest to hardest.

The test is ordered from least missed questions to most often missed questions. For the grid-in problems the difficulty resets. So as you go on from the first grid-in problem to the last grid-in problem, the questions will get progressively more challenging.

You can either focus on doing as many easy problems as possible with reasonable assurance that you got them correct.

OR, you could focus on the hardest problems first then do the easy problems because the easy problems should take less time therefore you can put them off until later when you have less time, assuming that because they are easier, they should take you less time to solve.

When in doubt, skip it! Come back to it later.

Skip problems that take you more than 2 minutes to solve.

If you see a problem you know how to solve (but will take you a long time) or have a vague idea how to solve, skip it.

If you see a problem and you don’t immediately know how to solve it, skip it.

How to Save Time

The test answers choices are generally listed from least to greatest or vice versa. If you need to fill in a value, start with one of the middle values. Then you can go up or down if that answer choice doesn’t work.

Don’t show all of your work if you don’t need to. You won’t get partial credit for showing your work. If you can do it in your head quickly and accurately then do it and bubble in the answer immediately.

Know when it’s going to be faster to plug in the various options versus solving for the correct variable.

Getting Better and Avoiding Making the Same Mistakes

Identity areas where you are the weakest and categorize your weakness into the following categories

  1. Silly mistake (ex. simple addition error or mixing up values)
  2. Knowledge based: you didn’t know how to solve that problem
  3. Ran out of time

Avoiding Making Silly Mistakes

  1. If you’re making a lot of silly mistakes, SLOW DOWN.
    • This may seem counterintuitive, but you have to give you brain the time it needs to function properly. I’d recommend taking practice tests so you can get used to the stress of working under time constraints.
    • Also, double check your work if you have time.
      • Generally, I double check my answers before I go back to answer the really hard questions.
  2. If you missed the question because you didn’t understand it and/or know how to solve it, use Khan Academy to learn how to solve questions like that.

The Most Important Tip I Can Give You

All the questions on the test are weighted the exact same. One will not count for more or less than any other, so focus on the ones where you’re absolutely sure you can obtain the correct answer.

Equations to Master

You should be familiar with all the you learn in algebra 1 and 2. Some ones that you should definitely know are

  • Parallel, perpendicular, and intersecting lines
  • Point slope form
  • Equation of a circle
  • Quadratic formula

Skills To Master

  • Splitting the middle
  • Combing like terms
  • Factoring quadratics
  • Similar triangles
  • Expanding polynomials

Good luck with the SAT! Always remember that the College Board is THE devil.



What You Need to Know to CRUSH the SAT

What You Need To Know To Crush The SAT.png

Hello! This is the first in a series of posts about making the SAT your b*tch! This point is about

  1. general test prep tips
  2. tips for test day
  3. helpful online resources
  4. best test prep book

ONE // General Test Prep Tips

  • Take practice tests routinely and often. The more exposure you get to the test, the better. If you can’t dedicate 4 consecutive hours of your day to taking a practice exam, try taking just the math sections one day and the English sections another day.
  • Make a master list of all the questions you’ve gotten wrong so that you can review them later and identify weak spots.

TWO // Tips for Test Day

  • When testing, make sure you bring at least a 32 oz water bottle and high quality snacks.
  • Pack your bag the night before. Make sure you include: your test ID, student (school) ID, at least 5 sharpened pencils, pencil sharpener, and eraser.
  • Make sure your calculator is on the College Board (yuck!) list of approved calculators.
  • Make sure you have your printed admissions ticket and valid school ID (it must be from the current school year or the year before if you’re taking the test before December of the new school year).
  • Pick out your clothes the night before. I like to wear comfortable but still nice clothes. what i swore to the SAT.png

sweatshirt | sneakers | pearls | shirt | glasses | socks | jeans

This is literally what I wore to take the SAT. Nothing special. I wore that were clothes that I had owned for YEARS. I have to say, I love the jeans I wore – they are real jeans, but they have a super comfy elastic waistband. I LOVE THEM. You’ll thank me later. Also, this shirt I got from GAP is the comfiest shirt I own. It’s the perfect combination of thick but not heavy and still maintaining a nice stretch. This shirt is literally perfect – you should buy it in every color!

THREE // Helpful Websites for SAT Prep

Erik the Read

I highly recommend this website. Super informative and helpful! I really can’t say enough good things about him. He teaches a lot of strategies that you’d typically only learn from expensive test prep companies. Also, there are plenty of worksheets on his website that you can access for free!

Khan Academy

Everyone knows and loves Khan Academy. For SAT Prep, Khan Academy is great for two kinds of people. One, people who need a lot of help to learn the actual content on that is assessed on the SAT. Two, people who already learned the content in school and just need to be able to do it faster and with greater accuracy. If you fall out of these two categories, Khan Academy isn’t going to cover the bulk of your needs. Also, Khan Academy doesn’t teach test strategies.

Prep Scholars

This is a really cool website that is all about how to succeed on standardized tests in high school, college, and grad school. Honestly, I didn’t use their website too much to study for the SAT, but I found it really helpful for the AP Chem exam. They do put together really useful study timelines and study guides that I think are pretty helpful.

FOUR // The Best Test Prep Books

Princeton Review Premium Prep

If I could recommend only one book to buy, it would be this one. I’d recommend buying this book because I didn’t need new test taking strategies since I had a private tutor and attended an SAT prep course. However, I still think the test taking strategies are super helpful and worth it! Also, it comes with 8 full-length practice tests. This book also reviews the format and mechanics of the test. You can access the official SAT practice tests on Khan Academy anyway.

Official College Board SAT Practice Test Book

This is just a really big book with 8 full-length SAT exams in it. You can access these EXACT same exams on Khan Academy too, so keep that in mind too. This book does walk you through each section of the test and its format. It also gives practice questions for each section of the test.

Princeton Review Extra Practice Tests 

This book has 10 full length practice tests. I really appreciate that each problem comes with a detailed explanation. I don’t think this one includes the test taking strategies like the other Princeton Review book mentioned above.

Good luck!



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