What To Do When It All Goes Wrong


As I write this Brazil is losing 5-0 to Germany in the World Cup Semi-Final. Which is being played in Brazil. Brazil hasn’t lost a competitive match in Brazil since 1975. Everything has gone wrong.

For Brazil it started with an injury to star forward Neymar, got worse with the suspension of star defender Thiago Silva and continued with clinical German passing picking apart the defense. Everything has gone wrong.

After years of doing test prep, I know several students who have similar stories. They’ve mis-bubbled entire sections, they’ve gotten completely flustered, they’ve spend the entire test feeling sick. What do you do in that situation?

First of all understand that a bad test day doesn’t necessarily mean you had a failure in preparation. Sometimes things just go bad. Next, understand that what happened in the past is gone and done, and no amount of worrying can change that. Finally, don’t think about the future. There ARE going to be other test days and other chances, and you will have a shot to prove what you know.

So in that moment, what can you do?

1. Stay in the moment- If things have gone so wrong that you can’t redeem your score for now, realize that you’re never going to get a better opportunity to practice in realistic conditions. Embrace that! Take the time to get used to the surroundings, and put in a couple good sections that you can build on for next time.

2. One question at a time- Sure, it sounds cheesy, but it’s absolutely the right move. The fact of the matter is that students are often very poor judges of their own performances in the heat of the moment. What felt like a disaster at the time may not have been that terrible. If you keep going strong, there still may be time to make up for any shortcoming you had! I’ve had several students tell me about their awful test experiences before receiving a really good score in the mail!

3. Find hope in the experimental section- If you encountered a section that went completely wrong, remember it might have been experimental! This is especially good advice for those of you taking the SAT, because as the SAT prepares to make changes, current test takers are likely to be guinea pigs for future types of test questions. But those new and funny questions are experimental and don’t count in your score. The only way they can hurt you is if you allow them to fluster you for future sections!

Good luck and here’s hoping you don’t need any of this advice!


 Not All Help Is Helpful


My son isn’t old enough to go to school yet, but when he is I’m sure I’ll struggle with the urge to do his homework for him, rather than letting him figure it out on his own like this mom.┬áThere’s something telling in the story the author of the article tells, where she makes a massive contribution to his essay, and ends up with a grade of 73. There’s no doubt that she understands good writing better than her son (and probably better than his teacher), but that doesn’t mean she understands how best to accomplish the task that he was given.

Here’s the takeaway: not all help is helpful. There are lots of people who are going to want to tell your how to prepare for your test. Most of them will be well-intentioned. Many of them will be wrong.

Make sure that YOU are the one seeking out good information. Make sure that your sources are well-informed. Make sure that you know what you need to do well enough that you can sort the good advice from the bad.

This is your process. Take control.

 The Future of Online Education


I read a very interesting article in the New York Times┬álast week about the internal debate at Harvard Business School about how to integrate online education into their programs. It’s a challenging question. While HBS has a firmly established position and doesn’t have to jump on every new trend, online education has the potential to be so disruptive to the industry that to resist is a risk.

The straightforward fact is that we are only scratching the surface in the realm of online education, and what we’ve already done is very impressive. Having worked on the project personally, I can attest to just how revolutionary and useful something like Barron’s online GMAT course is. There are many people who can’t afford individual tutoring sessions for their prep, whose study sessions are on the go, or who want to supplement a more traditional method of study. In the Barron’s course you get something that adapts to you, finding your problem areas and helping you address them.

The internet has changed the way we think, and in an era of six-second attention spans we need to adapt. The tried and true test preparation methods that your parents used may be just as relevant to you as the pay phones they grew up using.

If Harvard Business School needs to adapt to the new realities in online education, so do you.


 Garbage In, Garbage Out


I recently read an article that proclaimed Washington D.C. as the nation’s fittest city. Having lived in DC for three years, I was curious, so I read through the article. The American College of Sports Medicine apparently decided that it would be interesting to figure out which is America’s fittest city. The people running the survey, not wanting to introduce their own personal biases figured that they would come up with an objective list of factors, collect the data, and declare a winner.

One of the factors that seemed to carry heavy weight is spending on parks. The ACSM reasoned that heavy spending on parks makes them attractive and safe places to spend time, and thus would likely lead to a more fit population. They suggest that municipalities target approximately $100 per capita in parks spending. They note to Washington’s great credit that the city spends $398 per capita.

Stop and think about that for a minute. Does that necessarily mean that DC is filled with many beautifully manicured parks where citizens can safely enjoy exercise? No. In fact, as a former resident of the area, I remember many times when we had to scramble to fit some suitable space for a softball game or some pick-up soccer. Very rarely could you find a space big enough to accommodate a good game without being right up against other groups of people or having to deal with concrete walkways cutting through the field.

So how could DC have such great park spending and not have great recreational facilities? Simply speaking, DC’s parks aren’t parks, they’re monuments. The National Mall is a huge park, but it’s not made for fitness and it’s not really made for locals. It’s made for the thousands of tourists that flock to the city. Spending money to repair the Washington Monument doesn’t make DC fitter, but it does go into DC’s park budget.

You get the idea here. The point is that when you put garbage information into your formula, you get garbage out. When you’re working through a math problem making a simple mistake in transcribing the information is just as deadly as a gap in math knowledge. Be diligent, be careful and make sure you’re putting the right information into your formulas, because if it’s not right going in, it’s garbage coming out.