Guest contributor, Erica Badino, is a writer on a quest to share her knowledge and experiences with students.

Essay writing is something students either struggle with, or shrug off like it’s nothing. I was fortunate to have the writer genes needed to get me through these academic milestones, but for those who aren’t born to be writers, these can be a cause of serious stress.

The stress doubles when the student is taking a timed test like the ACT or SAT that requires them to finish the essay in a certain amount of time. Fortunately, with proper practice and skills, students can learn how to write essays faster than ever before. Join us as we look at three tips for speeding up your essay writing.

3 Ways to Crank Up Your Essay Writing Speed

The secret to quickly written essays isn’t anything in particular, it’s a network of different practices and skills. It’s all about putting a plan together, practicing, and staying focused. Here are three ways to make that happen:

1. Put Together an Outline

Having an outline is key if you want to write faster. Going in without a plan will leave you open for writer’s block and dips in your productivity. I typically do all of my research and planning before a single word hits the page. This helps me gather my thoughts and establish a baseline for my topic.

Usually I focus on the points I want to make and write them down in sequential order. From there, I start with an introduction and then, if need be, jot down notes for each point on what topics I want to get into.

2. Practice Within Time Limits

Many essays are done within a limit. This is especially true of tests like the SAT and ACT. Writing under pressure isn’t easy, but if you can train yourself to do it, you’ll feel much more prepared for the big day.

The key is to not give yourself any extra time, and to work with a prompt you haven’t seen before. Recreate the exact situation that the test will take place in, and you’ll give yourself the proper tools and habits to adapt to the situation when it’s time to write.

3. Find Your Focus

Staying focused is far easier said than done. Consider these tips for keeping your focus intact while writing papers:

  • Accept distractions, and meet them head on
  • Stay where you are (in a test you don’t have a choice)
  • Practice in silence
  • Reward yourself when you hit certain goals
  • Take a break every 45-minutes
  • Edit when you’re finished writing, not during
  • Leave a note for yourself to come back later if you get stuck on a spot

These tips will help you better stay in the moment and avoid things that will hamper your progress and ultimately slow you down. Sometimes it’s okay to come back to something later, or leave the editing for the final read through.

Final Thoughts

Writing faster is hard to imagine when you feel like you’re doing the best you can. These tips will help you make the most of your time and ultimately write faster without trying. Learning how to harness the tools you have in front of you is the secret to success.

How do you write faster? Let us know in the comments!

Where can I find overall school usage data?

On your home page, click on the “Account Information” link located just to the right of your avatar.  You can even compare the below usage stats to last school year’s.

usatestprep-inc-online-state-specific-review-and-benchmark-testing-2-1You’ll have access to:

  • Activation codes
  • Total school logins
  • Teacher and student login counts
  • Completed activity counts (tests, games, videos, and practice activities) for all content areas combinded
  • Usage by test
  • Subscription details and renewal dates

Thank you to the 321 teachers who took our “Print Resources” survey last month. You told us your favorite print resource is our Quizzes. You also told us you like our Class Activities.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-10-54-28-amAre you using USATestprep’s Class Activities or Quizzes in your classroom? What about our Puzzles and Flashcards?  All of these standards-aligned resources are included with your school’s USATestprep subscription and can save you big when it comes to planning time. Give them a try in March!

What’s the old way?

Previously, a teacher could edit assignment settings here (multiple attempts, minimum score, retry missed items) at any time, even after students started completing the assignment.

Why was it a problem?

That functionality was plagued by bugs, not to mention some confusion — were all students affected or only students who haven’t completed the assignment yet?  What if the student has one attempt left and the settings are changed?

On top of that, it made troubleshooting much more difficult because what if the teacher changed the settings after the student finished the assignment?  We didn’t keep track of those changes, so there was no way to be certain of the settings at the time when a student completed an assignment.

What’s the change?

We have removed those three settings from the Settings modal.  So, here are the two main changes:

  1. If teachers want to change those settings, they must use the Edit button — but wait…can’t teachers only edit an assignment before any students have completed it?
  2. That is change #2.  Teachers can only edit those three settings if NO students have completed it yet.  That way, we can ensure that all students have the exact same settings.

Where can teachers view their settings?

To view the settings for a specific assignment, click on the assignment title.  We’ve added the selected settings in those details as a reference.

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USATestprep offers a variety of built-in accommodations on our site.  These accommodations fall into two categories: Benchmark Accommodations and Assignments/Projector Based Resources.

          Benchmark Accommodations

  • Duplicate Copy – When a benchmark is created, there is an option to make a duplicate copy. This is a great tool to use to meet the needs of diverse learners.  The duplicate copy allows you to go in and change the test settings.  She always knows the right answer
  • Spanish Option – Questions, answers, and passages can be translated into Spanish.  If you select this option, the test will not automatically be translated for every student.  Instead, there will be a link at the top of the benchmark labeled “Español,” and if a student clicks on this link, the test will be translated.
  • Reduce Answer Choices – This will reduce the number of answer choices from 4 to 3.  It will still show all four answer options, but one will already be eliminated.
  • Highlighter – We offer a highlighter tool that students can use to highlight key words and phrases.
  • Audio Available – We offer audio recordings of passages, questions, and answers.
  • Eliminate Answer – Students can hover over answer choices and choose to “Eliminate” the answer choice.  When this is done, a line will be placed through the answer.  If a student hovers over the answer choice again,  he or she can “Restore” that answer.
  • Printing Options – Our benchmarks can be printed in larger font sizes and with a variety of spacing options.
  • Question Filters – When creating a custom benchmark, teachers can filter questions based on Low or High DOK or difficulty level.

    Assignments/Projector Based Resources

  • Multiple Attempts – When creating an assignment, teachers can allow students to have multiple attempts to improve their score.
  • Minimum Score – Teachers can set a minimum mastery score on assignments.
  • Difficulty Level – Our practice question difficulty levels can be adjusted to three options: Random, Beginner, or Advanced.
  • Font Size – The font size for our projector based resources can be adjusted to be larger for students who may need this accommodation.

    For more information on accommodations, please refer to this webinar recording.  To use these tools in your classroom, login to your USATestprep.com account.

1) Click on the “Classes” tab. Then, click the “Create New Class” link.

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2) Give your class a name. Then, select the test(s) that will be used by this class and click “Continue.”

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3) Now you can add students to your class. As you find the students you are looking for, you can add them by clicking the “+Add” link to the left of their names. Student names will appear on the left side as they are added. Click “Save and Manage Class” when finished.

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4) Successful class creation will take you to the page seen below. Here you can click “Edit Class” to make adjustments, click “Password Cards” to print login information cards for each student, or click “Lock Game Arcade” to prevent students from playing games.

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Need more help creating your class? Be sure to watch this video.

1) To change your account information, email preferences, or avatar, click “Edit Account.” Click “Account Information” to view activation codes, usage data, renewal dates, and account contacts.

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2) Click on “Webinars” to access a wealth of training and expert insights on using USATestprep. Both pre-recorded and live sessions are available.

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3) To access standards-aligned resources by content area and grade level, mouse over the top navigation. Click on the content area you wish to use. You will see a wide variety of online and printable resources, as well as projector games.

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4) Click the respective tabs to create a class, benchmark, or assignment. Future emails will provide in-depth directions on using these sections of the website.

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5) To access help resources, additional training information, and FAQs, click the “Need Help?” link. You may also contact USATestprep directly by clicking the “Feedback & Contact” button at the bottom of any page.

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Reading a history textbook is a lot like being at the end of a line of players in the old game, “telephone,” in which a message is passed along in whispers from one person to the next. By the time it gets to the end of the line, the message has often changed quite a bit, and is often shorter and less detailed than it was at first — if it is not hilariously wrong!

By the time an event is narrated in a textbook, it has likely passed through many hands and tellings: The textbook author has herself read it in an article, whose author, in turn, read it in a historical anthology (such as one of the Cambridge “companion” volumes). The authors of the anthology, in turn, may have read an account of the event in a famous monograph written by an eminent historian of the last century, and so forth. But what was the original “message” in this game of telephone? What did the first narration of the event sound like?

Take the story of Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon: He knew, both as a matter of tradition and according to Senate declarations, that to cross the Rubicon into Italy with his army amounted to a declaration of war and an act of treason against Rome. His decision to cross the the river in 49 BC led to a war and to developments in his life which have had incalculably many consequences for all subsequent history. Even the phrase, “to cross the Rubicon,” has become a proverbial way to express the idea of taking an action which cannot be reversed.

So what was that first Rubicon-crossing like? Thanks to the internet, we can easily get close to the original telling of this story.

When it comes to the history of ancient Greece and Rome, there is no better resource for those of us who are not Classics scholars than the Loeb Classical Library. The LCL is a collection of over 500 volumes of the most essential surviving literature of the ancient world, presented in the original Greek and Latin with facing-page English versions.

The Loeb project began in 1911, so many of the translations are now in the public domain. These have been gathered into a digital library of PDFs called Loebolus (or “little Loeb”), which can be downloaded either individually or complete in one file. There are also more browser-friendly versions of many of these available on LacusCurtius and at the Perseus Digital Library.

The LCL includes three volumes containing five of Caesar’s own historical works but, alas, in none of them does he offer his own account of the Rubicon moment. But Plutarch and Suetonius, two authors who wrote less than a century after the event, offer us very compelling accounts from much farther up the “telephone” line than our textbooks!

Plutarch (in his Life of Caesar) tells us:

He [Caesar] himself spent the day in public, attending and watching the exercises of gladiators; but a little before evening he bathed and dressed and went into the banqueting hall. Here he held brief converse with those who had been invited to supper, and just as it was getting dark and went away, after addressing courteously most of his guests and bidding them await his return. To a few of his friends, however, he had previously given directions to follow him, not all by the same route, but some by one way and some by another. He himself mounted one of his hired carts and drove at first along another road, then turned towards Ariminum. When he came to the river which separates Cisalpine Gaul from the rest of Italy (it is called the Rubicon), and began to reflect, now that he drew nearer to the fearful step and was agitated by the magnitude of his ventures, he checked his speed. Then, halting in his course, he communed with himself a long time in silence as his resolution wavered back and forth, and his purpose then suffered change after change. For a long time, too, he discussed his perplexities with his friends who were present, among whom was Asinius Pollio, estimating the great evils for all mankind which would follow their passage of the river, and the wide fame of it which they would leave to posterity. But finally, with a sort of passion, as if abandoning calculation and casting himself upon the future, and uttering the phrase with which men usually prelude their plunge into desperate and daring fortunes, “Let the die be cast,” he hastened to cross the river; and going at full speed now for the rest of the time, before daybreak he dashed into Ariminum and took possession of it. It is said, moreover, that on the night before he crossed the river he had an unnatural dream; he thought, namely, that he was having incestuous intercourse with his own mother.

Suetonius gives his account in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars:

Then, overtaking his cohorts at the river Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he paused for a while, and realizing what a step he was taking, he turned to those about him and said: “Even yet we may draw back; but once cross yon little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.”

As he stood in doubt, this sign was given him. On a sudden there appeared hard by a being of wondrous stature and beauty, who sat and played upon a reed; and when not only the shepherds flocked to hear him, but many of the soldiers left their posts, and among them some of the trumpeters, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, rushed to the river, and sounding the war-note with mighty blast, strode to the opposite bank. Then Caesar cried: “Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. The die is cast,” said he.

Accordingly, crossing with his army, and welcoming the tribunes of the commons, who had come to him after being driven from Rome, he harangued the soldiers with tears, and rending his robe from his breast besought their faithful service.

It should be clear that using the internet to “go up the telephone line” and to get closer to the sources of history is a great way to make the events and stories more lively and easier to relate to, as opposed to waiting for the messages to get all the way down to the textbooks we use in the classroom.

larry-headshotAbout the Author
A former math teacher in Georgia, Larry Coty is now USATestprep’s Math Content Team Leader. He has two daughters and resides in Tucker, GA.

As the SAT/ACT season approaches, most students are trying to cram as much knowledge into their minds as possible. And, while teachers and parents know this is inefficient, they rarely have solid advice which can help students master these all-important college entrance exams. So, what should you tell your SAT and ACT bound students to help prepare them to garner better performance? What are the best ways to improve scores without dedicating countless hours to test prep? Here are 18 hacks which can take your kids’ SAT or ACT scores from average to exceptional.

  • Avoid Cram Sessions

While many students will procrastinate to the point of no return, encourage them not to. Instead, plan study of key test points starting at least six weeks ahead of the exam. Assigning study sessions during class, as homework or extra credit, can help students work at a more sustainable pace.

Trying to cram before a test is stressful and unlikely to yield good results. According to a study conducted at UCLA, cramming rarely helps students perform and can even lead to lower test scores. The stress of attempting to learn anything in a short time period makes memory harder to access, and resting your brain before a big exam is necessary for the best possible score.

  • Customized Learning

Encourage students to employ different means of studying, depending on their personal learning styles. Students may be auditory, visual or kinesthetic learners and should adapt study habits which take advantage of learning styles.This can mean anything from color-coding notes, to discussing topics with peers, to pairing studying with physical activity. Students who customize their study habits to themselves learn more, remember more, and will do better on their SATs and ACTs.

  • Relating Key Information

Creating personal associations with key topics can help students access long-term memory reserves more readily. Teach students to create anagrams which relate to important events in their lives, pets, or other beloved possessions. Creating emotional ties to test material can improve your pupils’ memorization capacity which will, in turn, help them get higher scores on standardized tests.

  • Be Prepared

Remind test-takers to pack the night before the test to avoid forgetting important supplies, such as pencils, calculators, pens, water, and a snack. They should also be prepared for chilly exam rooms. Suggest that students dress in light layers and bring one layer more than expected. The less time spent distracted by personal discomfort, the better. Students should also ensure they pack their admission ticket and valid photo identification.

  • Brain Food

Nourishing students with appropriate food will help them build memory links and perform better on tests. Remind students to eat healthy brain food during study sessions, especially the night before and morning of the test. Try suggesting students eat nuts, berries, and chocolate during study sessions. Those brain-boosting foods are also delicious snacks.

  • Hydration is Key

Students should get used to drinking water during study sessions and bring a good-sized bottle on test day. Hydration is important for stamina during preparation and test-taking. Try to encourage students to avoid energy drinks, coffee, or sports drinks for standardized testing. The tried and true water has no substitution and is infinitely better for brain plasticity. Even mild dehydration can derail concentration and impede memory functions.

  • Rest

Of course, students need to rest regularly for a healthy body and mind. However, as big tests approach, many of them will throw off their sleep cycles with prolonged study sessions. This is a big no-no! Regular sleep patterns are necessary for REM sleep. And, REM sleep is necessary for the mind to function at its highest capacity.

  • Avoid Caffeine Jitters and Sugar Rushes

Test-takers should moderate caffeine and sugar to avoid the ups and downs associated with high levels of either. While starting the day with a double espresso or monster may seem like a way to guarantee energy, the effects are short-lived and likely to wear off during the exam.

  • Manage Time Efficiently

It may seem like a bad idea to skip questions; however, students should do just that. The SATs and ACTs reward correct answers. The more correct answers, the higher the score. So, it stands to reason that your students should be coached to skip anything which they don’t immediately know and come back later. This strategy allows test takers to get the highest number of quick points before spending time figuring out the more complicated questions.

  • Process of Elimination

Remind students that there is always one right answer. If they are unsure of a question, they should begin by eliminating obviously wrong answers. Ideally, they can pare down the choices to one or two options which aren’t obviously wrong. From there, students who are unsure should guess between the options left. Wrong answers are the same as blanks, so students should take a chance any time they’re unsure.

This great infographic shows a few more non-academic ways to make the most out of the testing day. The first couple suggestions are fairly obvious, get sleep and eat well. The rest of them, not so much. They include body language, inner dialog, gum, and others.

Groza Learning Center Shares 8 Hacks to Improve SAT and ACT Test Scores

Clearly, there are more tips, but applying these can help calm more pre-test nerves (for both of you). Read more at the Groza Learning Center.

Student Dot Rank Settings

  • On any content area page, students can track their own progress and proficiency.
  • Proficiency is displayed using Dot Rank, our system of green, orange, pink, and grey dots.
  • Students have two options to calculate their Dot Rank scores — best practice question set only or cumulative total of all test, benchmark, and practice questions.
  • New easy toggle at the top of the page makes it easy to switch views.
  • Click on the Dot Rank link to view scoring breakdown for each color dot.
  • Vocabulary, performance tasks, and videos are tracked through the Progress bar.

Watch a video about the Dot Rank settings.

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Did You Know…?

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