For those of a certain age, a box of 64 crayons- the one with the sharpener in the back- represented the apex of childhood happiness. While slogging through days of teaching my 9th graders about Medieval Europe, I’d often long for the carefree days of just coloring away in my Batman activity book as a kid on my grandmother’s back porch. But childish pursuits are behind us and our high school scholars.

Well of course they aren’t.

One school in California is finding the childhood pastime to be a great way to relieve stress in for students, particularly the high-achieving ones. A recent article in School Library Journal detailed Valencia High School’s efforts to reduce student- and staff- anxiety through the simple act of coloring. According to Joy Millam, the school’s teacher librarian, coloring relaxes students because it “requires single-minded focus, while its structure makes it soothing.”

This should remind all of us to take stock of the stress levels of our kids. The demands on them are great, often greater than they let on or than we know. Academics, athletics, extracurriculars, relationships, all of these pile on kids who often lack the coping tools for these burdens.  Finding a productive way to help them vent those tensions- whether through coloring or some other activity- could not only help them focus, it could benefit the entire learning environment at your school.

For the whole story on Valencia High School, check out the article here.

kirbyAbout the Author
Kirby Spivey taught AP World History, US History, and numerous other Social Studies courses in Georgia. Mr Spivey currently leads USATestprep’s Social Studies content team. He and his wife live in Atlanta and own several coloring books.

  • The filter and gradebook load separately — previously, the filter and gradebook loaded together, which meant a teacher had to wait for the entire gradebook to load, only to change the filter.
  • The filter is always expanded (no more Filter Grades link).
  • If teachers have any hidden assignments, the message is displayed below the gradebook.
  • More tweaks to the gradebook are coming, but this is a nice start!


  1. If you allowed multiple attempts for an assignment, the highestdownload score will display automatically in your gradebook — there is no filtering required. If you allowed students to retry missed items, then click the “Show Grades” link and change the grades filter from Original to Retest.
  2. Assignments taking a long time to load? The Assignments tab just got a lot quicker! With more user-friendly filters and sorting capabilities, it is easier to find the assignments you want. Thedownload-2 Assignments tab updates results every 15 minutes. If you need results sooner, click on the refresh arrows at the top of the Completed column.
  3. The class Progress Report now includes all types of activities, including performance tasks, vocabulary practice, puzzles, and videos. All options are checked by default, so use the gear icon in the top right corner to customize what data you want to see for each standard, as well as to set a specific date

If you’re up against the clock, you may feel as though planning your essay is a waste of time. Surely it’s better just to sit down and get writing? Not so. If you plan an assignment properly, you can remove a lot of the pressure. After all, you’ll have the roadmap to your work laid out in front of you. Here’s 7 tips to help you get the best structure for your assignment.

  1. Plan your paragraphs

Every paragraph in your essay should have a clear point to it. Write a clear topic sentence for every paragraph you plan to include, and think about how you’re going to describe your ideas. Will you compare and contrast ideas, list sources, or present a solution to the problem?

  1. Link your paragraphs together

Once you know how your paragraphs are going to read, you need to know how to link them together. You want them to all work together in order to back up your main argument. Look for a theme in your plans so far, as you can use that in your links. Use linking words such as ‘Similarly’, ‘Consequently’, and ‘Outcomes included’ to show you’re about to move onto a new idea.

  1. Use your word count as a guide

Your word count will be a good indication of how much detail you’re expected to go into. 500 words will be an overview of a topic, 1000 words will want at least one idea fully explored, and 2000 words will need much more dissection of the topic at hand. If you need a hand keeping to your word count, use a tool to keep you on task.

  1. Keep on top of your grammar

When planning your assignment, you’ll need to make sure that you can get your grammar spot on. Good grammar is the basis of good writing, so it needs to be perfect.

  1. Make sure you’re citing correctly

In the planning stages, you’ll be bringing all of your research together, so you can start to formulate an argument. Before you do so, make sure you have all of the right citations for your work. If you fail to include them, you could lose marks or even be accused of plagiarism. Make sure that you have the right citations by using a tool.

  1. Get the formatting right

Every university and every professor will have slightly different requirements for formatting, so read your assignment brief to find out what you need to do. This can help inform you of the layout of your essay.

  1. Use the ‘three parts’ rule

Every good assignment will have a three-part structure. There will be an introduction, the main body of your argument, and the conclusion. Essentially you’re telling the reader what you’re about to say, then you’re saying what you have to say, and then you’re reiterating what you said. If you have these three parts, you can be sure that you’re covering all the main points.

If you follow these tips, you can get an excellent essay plan written. Then, all you have to do is follow it to get the best essay written. A good plan can save a lot of stress and hassle when you’re writing, so give it a try.

mary-walton-200x200Mary Walton is an online tutor and proofreader from Santa Monica. She lived in Australia for 10 years and gained her degree in creative writing at the University of Melbourne. She’s worked with people of all ages as they’ve made their way through their educational careers, from starting to school to graduating from university.

After an in-depth process of research, evaluation of resources, critical thinking, planning, and writing, you come down to a final product that’s called research paper. This is not a simple extended essay. It’s a much more complex assignment that requires a lot of time and effort to complete.

When students face thiswall of notes type of assignment, it’s only natural for them to feel anxious about completing it. The best way to beat that anxiety is to have a rock-solid plan that will take you to a successful result. When you’re taking actionable steps towards tangible goals, the research paper challenge seems possible to tackle.

Remember: learning how to write research papers in high school will make your life as a college student much easier. You’ll be writing plenty of research papers if you plan to go to college.

We’ll give you a detailed guide of 10 steps to take towards the completion of an argumentative research paper.

  1. Be Mentally Prepared

Before you start writing this paper, you need to work on your mindset. The research paper is a huge challenge. However, your teacher already covered the topic in general and you do have a foundation of knowledge. You’ll only need to locate relevant information, come up with a thesis statement, and express your arguments in the paper. You can do it!

  1. Define the Purpose of Your Research Paper

Your teacher gave you guidelines or a research paper question. Now, you need to define your point of view, which you’ll translate in a thesis statement. The guidelines are usually general, so you’ll have to narrow them down.

  • Even the most boring topics can be approached from an unusual angle. Find a point that interests you and use it as the foundation of that assignment. If, for example, the general instruction is to write a research paper on global warming, you can pick a narrow theme: how it affects rainforests or an animal you love.
  • By the end of this step, you should come up with a thesis statement. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you should have it as the foundation of every following step.
  1. Collect Sources

Now, it’s time for the hard work: the research process. You can use only reliable information from books, journal articles, interviews, encyclopedias, and authoritative web pages.

  • If you really want to impress your teacher, you should use books. Visit the school library!
  • Use Google Scholar to find resources you can use.
  • You don’t have to read them all at this point. Just briefly examine them to see if they are relevant to your topic. At the end of this stage, pick at least five sources that you’ll explore in details and you’ll use in the research paper.
  1. Read, Categorize, and Document the Information

Read them! Take notes on how you plan to use the information from those sources in your paper. How do they support or defy your point of view? Make sure to note down where each idea is coming from.

  1. Write an Outline with Proper Structure

An outline will keep the discussion organized around the main thesis statement.

  • Organize the outline according to your teacher’s instructions. The paper should have an introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Plan what you’ll write in each section of the paper.
  1. Start Writing the Body Paragraphs

You might think that the introduction is the best place to start, but that’s not true. It’s recommended to start with the body of the research paper. At this point, you have a thesis statement, but you can manipulate it as your ideas progress.

  • Start with the body paragraphs and follow the outline, but don’t be afraid to alter it along the way.
  • Make clear points and support them with evidence from your sources.
  1. Write the Conclusion

Now that you’ve exposed your arguments and supported them with evidence, it’s time for the conclusion. This should be a brief summary of your findings. The reader should have a complete impression. Don’t introduce any new ideas here.

  1. Write the Introduction

Read through your paper. How would you introduce it to someone in few sentences? This is exactly why we positioned the introduction as the 8th step of this guide. Now, you can introduce your arguments in a believable way that gets the attention of your reader.

  1. Write and Format the Bibliography

It’s important to reference all sources you used. If your teacher didn’t give instructions on proper referencing, you can find and follow the guidelines for APA, MLA, or Chicago styles. Choose the one that’s suitable for the topic’s area of study.

  1. Edit the Paper

Congratulations! You have your first draft. Now, it’s time to polish it out. Read it thoroughly and improve the logical flow. Don’t hold back to get rid of some parts if they are not necessary. If you feel like you need to add more information, do it at this stage.

Finally, you’ll do a final proofreading and your research paper will be ready to go.

Research paper writing seems easy when you read about it, right? In practice, it’s a complex process that requires full focus. That’s why it’s important to practice and start early. Start today!

Chris Richardson is an editor and a blogger. He is passionate about writing, traveling, and photography. Chris loves to meet new people and talk about modern education and technologies. 

As of today:

  • Benchmark answer keys will have the correct answers bolded and italicized (in some browsers).
  • The following changes have been made to USATestprep’s “Assignments” tab:
    • Group assignments won’t load until you click to expand.
    • Pagination
    • Ability to hide the filter
    • If a filter is set, the Filter Assignments link is formatted.
    • No more “Grades” button; now all buttons say “Results”
    • Settings modal will show if a student has taken an assignment — and if so, they cannot be removed from the assignment.
    • Edit button grays out for a group assignment if there are results.
    • Completed column does not update in real time (every 15 minutes), so there’s a refresh icon to instantly retrieve results.


Thank you to the more than 5,100 students and teachers who took USATestprep’s March Survey. Our new arcade game, Test Drive is the reigning favorite with students by a large margin!

favorite gamesAre you including games as part of your group assignments? 81% of teachers told us they assign games at least sometimes with their group assignments.  And yes, we heard you: over 86% of you said you would like more games to assign to students.

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!