About Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer has been a member since April 8th 2011, and has created 1088 posts from scratch.

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Should Your Student Work With a Professional Test Prep Tutor?


professional test prep

Should your student work with a professional test prep tutor? Bobby Hood, of Noodle Pros, says YES! 

Bobby has been tutoring professionally for 7 years. He is a member of the Triple Nine Society, an association of individuals with IQ scores above the 99.9th percentile. After graduating high school as valedictorian with an SAT score of 800 Math and 790 Verbal, he attended Texas Christian University on a full-tuition scholarship.

Before he began tutoring, Bobby had two prior careers as a CPA and attorney respectively. Bobby worked as a CPA for two years before attending The University of Texas School of Law.

After 10 years of practicing law, Bobby returned to his love of teaching and began tutoring students. He tutors the SAT, ACT, LSAT, GMAT, GRE, GRE, and MCAT CARS.

I spoke with Bobby about why he tutors, how to prep for the SAT or ACT, when to start studying, and the advantages of working with a professional test prep tutor.

1. After 7 years, why do you still do it?

When I worked as a CPA and as an attorney, I never felt like I was actually helping make a positive difference in the world. Now I make a difference in students’ lives every single day. It’s rewarding and affirming, and it never gets boring, because every student is different.

2. A course and/or many tutors would be a lot cheaper, why should students not take a course? Why work with a super-tutor?

Most courses are designed with a “one-size-fits-all” approach; generally, test prep courses are geared toward students who are scoring below or near the median. A student at that level may benefit greatly from starting with a course or other prep material in order to master the underlying content needed to earn a high score on the test. However, in order to move significantly above the median (say, above the 84th percentile or so), a student will need to focus on the patterns of the test in a very individualized way.

Today’s students generally have very busy schedules, and need to balance test preparation with studying for challenging AP courses and participating in extracurricular activities and organizations. Individual attention from a tutor with a great deal of experience in adjusting the preparation to the needs of the student can in most cases result in the highest improvements quite efficiently, allowing the student to focus on all of those other important facets of the high school experience.

3. What are three things that all students can do that will improve their scores?

  1. Focus on the fact that your past educational background has already prepared you to answer most or all of the test’s questions correctly, as long as you know the patterns of the questions and the proper way to approach them.
  2.  Take the test in a mindful, deliberate manner, choosing to work the questions and passages that will be easiest for you first. Save the questions that require the most work until the end, when you can focus on them without worrying about other remaining questions. In the end, the test is more a test of your attitude and approach than it is of knowledge or ability.
  3.  Practice intelligently. Learn the strategies, then take a practice test under timed conditions and apply those strategies. Spend at least half as much time reviewing the test as you did taking it. What questions did you miss or spend too much time on? How can you change your approach to similar questions in the future?

4. What should people look for in a good tutor?

Good tutors are flexible and will take the time to explain how they will approach the tutoring and how it will apply to your student. If a tutor is not responsive to questions up front, then the tutor is not likely to do a good job of communicating with you or the student as the tutorial progresses.

5. What happens if you are just not a good test taker?

Almost every student describes himself or herself as “not a good test taker”, and this is almost never true. Standardized tests are designed to make students feel like they are not good test takers; the primary goal of my tutoring is to disabuse students of this notion, and help them realize that once they know the patterns of the test, they will gain the confidence that they are just as good at test-taking as they are talented in other endeavors of their life.

6. How many times should you take the ACT/SAT?

As part of your preparation, you should take practice tests until you are consistently earning a score that you would be happy with and that represents your skills and background appropriately. Once you are consistently achieving those scores on practice tests, you should take the actual test and look to achieve a similar (or higher) score. Of course, anyone can have an off day, so you might need to take it multiple times to get the score you’re looking for. That said, once you’ve earned the score you want, there’s no need to continue.

7. How early should you start preparing?

Trigonometry is the highest level of math tested on both the SAT and the ACT. So, you can begin as soon as you have learned Trig (generally, at the end of Algebra II). You can begin earlier if you like, but you won’t be prepared to earn the highest possible score until you have gotten through Trig.

The best way to decide when to start preparing is to work backwards from your goal. Since you would prefer to spend the summer before Senior year visiting colleges and preparing your college application, you should have your scores in hand by the June tests of Junior year at the latest. Therefore, you should start your preparation in the Spring of Junior year at the latest, or earlier if possible. Sophomore year is usually a bit early to begin preparing, but not out of the question if the student is already taking Algebra II.

If there is any chance that the student will be a contender for National Merit Finalist status, then preparation should begin in the summer before Junior year, leading up to the PSAT/NMSQT test in October of Junior year, since that is the test that is used to determine National Merit Finalist awards.

8. What is important about practice tests?

Practice tests are the only way to realistically assess whether you are prepared to take the actual test. It’s important to take practice tests under timed conditions and in surroundings that best approximate the actual test. Many students mistakenly focus only on whether they are capable of answering questions correctly, when the important question is whether they are able to answer questions correctly under the time pressure of the test.

9. When should students stop worrying about their score?

You should never begin worrying about your score. Think about it this way: there are questions on the test that, based on your past educational background, you are “supposed to get right.” There are also questions on the test that you are not supposed to get right. Your goal is to use strategies to make sure that you approach the test in the right way and get right all of those questions that you’re supposed to get right, instead of rushing through the test and making errors on lots of questions.

If you do that, then you should be proud of your score, because it properly represents you and your educational experience. Now, if the strategies also help you get some of those questions that you WEREN’T supposed to get right, well… that’s a nice bonus.

10. Many students say they insist on in-person tutoring versus online tutoring, what do you say to that?

In my experience, online tutoring is substantially more effective than in-person tutoring. It sounds counter-intuitive, since effective online tutoring has only been possible for a few years now. However, it fits with the way today’s students tend to learn. I began to notice in recent years that students in a classroom will often take a photo of problems worked on the board in a classroom, and then refer back to that photo later when studying. In online tutoring, everything we do – every strategy I teach – is written on the whiteboard and you save it at the end as a PDF file.

When tutoring is face-to-face, you have to divide your attention between listening to what I’m saying, looking at what I’m writing down, and taking notes for future reference. This slows things down and leads to less comprehension. In online tutoring, we discuss and work through problems together, and everything goes onto the whiteboard for your own future reference. You really have to try it to see how amazing it is. Many students have mentioned to me after their first sessions that they were not expecting it to be so effective, and generally they leave the sessions enthusiastic to continue the tutoring.

11. Are you just teaching test strategy tricks or are you really teaching a student how to read or do math?

I’m definitely not teaching you to read or to do math. However, I’m definitely teaching you how to read well and how to do math well. In other words, tutoring is all about learning how to think critically: to note the way questions and answers are worded, and what that tells you about how to approach the problem, and what answers to eliminate before you fall into a trap. These critical thinking skills don’t just improve your scores on the test; they will make every test you ever take easier, and probably make you much better at reading college textbooks for your courses in a more engaged and efficient manner.

12. What are some good resources that are available to all students?

A student who is at or below the median test score probably needs to do work to get the basic content down. Khan Academy is an excellent free source that can help students learn and practice basic content. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Khan Academy teaches test strategy. Khan Academy is the free starting point for mastering content areas that you are weak in; after that, move on to actual test strategies.

For test strategies, the books Cracking the ACT and Cracking the SAT by The Princeton Review are excellent resources to start with. Learn the strategies, and then practice applying them on actual ACT and SAT tests. For the ACT, the Real ACT Prep Guide is the only approved source of actual ACT tests. For the SAT, use the actual SAT practice tests on the College Board and Khan Academy sites – but focus on tests 5, 6, 7, and 8, which are actual real SATs that were released as practice tests after being administered.

13. Is there a moment or a story you can think of that has had a large impact on your career as a tutor?

One of my former ACT students returned four years later to prepare for the MCAT. He told me that the critical thinking skills he had learned while tutoring with me had helped him study in college efficiently and do very well on the demanding pre-med curriculum. At that point it hit home to me that tutoring isn’t just about taking one test, but instead is about a mindful approach to learning that applies throughout your lifetime. It’s really helped me to appreciate how important attitude and critical thinking are not just for standardized tests, but for approaching life in general.

14. If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently on the ACT or SAT?

Haha well… I used Cracking the SAT and Cracking the ACT to prepare, even way back then, and I only missed the perfect score on each test by one question. So I wouldn’t do anything differently on the tests themselves, but perhaps I would rather have realized much earlier that my passion in life is teaching and tutoring.

This is a sponsored post and I have received compensation for this interview.


Careers in the Medical Field (other than a doctor or a nurse)



Is your college-bound teen interested in the medical field but doesn’t want to become a doctor or nurse? It’s good to know there are other avenues they can pursue, and some are even available online.

Who are medical assistants in the medical field? They are the people usually working under doctors. They work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Their work is basically to take care of administrative, clerical and clinical tasks. These may include tasks such as scheduling appointments, blood preparation, recording patient history and information,helping with examinations, and recording vital signs.

There are many different medical assistant programs out there. This makes the decision to enroll in a medical assistant program a difficult one. As a potential student, how do you balance your choices from the different programs? I suggest you compare the costs and the length of the program. Different schools out there offer programs, some even offer online programs. You can tell just by logic the convenience of an online program.  I mean can, students get to save a significant amount of money and still be able to study from anywhere.

I have looked at a couple of medical assistant online programs which have been compiled based on affordability and quality. Do you want to graduate with a certification, a diploma, or an associate’s degree? Keep in mind that a diploma or certification takes less time to complete and can get you into the workforce right away and an associate’s degree takes a longer time and its quite useful when you want to a fast track to the top. Medical assistant online courses, make it possible to keep your current lifestyle while pursuing your medical career.  Here are several choices.0

1.The College of Health Care Professions (CHCP)

This college offers a medical assisting certificate and a Healthcare Management degree for further career advancement. To make it legitimate, this school is accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Medical assisting online courses from this school allow students to complete labs and lectures online with the option of in-field clinical experience at local campuses across the U.S. This quality training requires a tuition fee of $24,133.

2.Kaplan University

This is going to impress you. It is very important to note that this program is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Kaplan University’s online bachelor’s program is known for their quality online medical degrees, and it’s no different for their medical assisting online program either. You can get this quality training for $14,241. If you are not able to fully fund yourself, the school offers financial aid based on the FASFA application.

3.Harrison College

Harrison College is a for-profit college that offers a degree and diploma in medical assisting. Harrison is one of two distance learning CAAHEP accredited medical assisting programs in the nation keeping in mind that CAAHEP is the largest programmatic accreditor in the health sciences field. The online associate of applied science in medical assisting program takes two years, with a medical assistant externship included in the tuition fee which is just $17,100.

4.Liberty University

This is one of the world’s largest online universities. Liberty is a non-profit, Christian school that offers degrees from the certification to the doctoral level. Too good to be true? It is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. This school offers an Associate of Applied Science in Medical Office Assisting program that prepares students to work as assistants in healthcare environments.The tuition fee caps at $20,109 which is fair considering the school’s rep and the quality of training provided.


As you can see, these are just but a few options. There are other schools out there that offer such programs. This article has highlighted the best in quality and price to make it easier for your student to make a better decision.

The 4-1-1 on This Year’s Common Application

common application

It looks like the widely used Common Application has taken some cues from the new Coalition Application.

The new changes to the 2017-18 Common App for colleges mirror features found in the Coalition App. Competition often creates innovation and the Common App has some much-needed updates. The Common App changes this year will benefit high school students and make the application more user friendly.

While these changes will be welcomed by students, it’s too early to tell whether or not they will bring with them glitches in the application system. Here are some possible complications that could arise as high school students attempt to use each new section.

1. Detailed Course and Grade Section

Previously, in order for colleges to see a student’s previous years’ class schedule, they either had to request it or wait and view it on the official transcript. Now a college can view a high school student’s academic performance before the arrival of the transcript. Students input their own grades and can view their own academic performance while in the Common App. This is an option that the Coalition App currently provides as well.

This consolidates the grade-reporting process within the Common App and allows colleges to have detailed information provided by the students themselves. It’s still not clear whether this option will be required or optional, but students should always provide as much information as possible when applying to colleges.

2. Integration with Google

Recognizing that many high school students use a cloud platform to create and collaborate on assignments, the Common App has added this feature to its 2017-18 version. This allows students to upload essays and high school resumes directly from their Google Drives into their applications.

It is possible that students will experience formatting and other glitches that sometimes happen with cloud documents. These changes could mean problems for students, but until the application is widely used, we won’t know about technical problems. High school students will be able to write, revise and proofread documents easily on any computer before uploading them to the application. Since many students use school or public computers, this function will make it easier for them to complete the process. This is another functionality that is similar to the one offered by the Coalition App.

For more changes and improvements, click here to read the original article on

What If Your College Student Gets Sick?


Today’s article is from Beth Tofel, found and President of FootprintID. It helps parents easily store and keep track of their child’s medical records and share their health information with physicians, emergency responders, family members and friends—when they need it most.


For those of us who have sent children off to college we know the anxiety and stress that comes along with the excitement.  The oldest child is often the most challenging because of the unknowns and then when the youngest heads off it can leave the quiet in our homes sounding very loud.

One of the things I hear so often is “what if my child gets sick?”.  For the first time we are not right there to “diagnose” what is wrong, speak to the doctors or nurses, or immediately participate in decisions related to a child’s health.

Worse than that, because of HIPAA laws, the doctors are not allowed to speak to us without our child’s permission.  I suppose that works fine for a cold, cough, or strep throat.  But what happens when the unthinkable happens.  Your child can’t communicate to give the doctor permission to speak to you.  This is not something we want to think about, but as responsible parents we MUST.

I spoke to a lawyer friend recently, who shared some of the stories she has heard when needed documents are not available in a situation such as this.  Sometimes parents are simply told to come to the hospital, but what is going on with their child can’t be shared.  They don’t know if they are arriving to find a broken leg, or god forbid, their child in critical condition.

What happens if your child has an allergy, takes medication, or suffers from a condition that an emergency responder doesn’t know about.  Or there is a decision to be made as to how to treat your child.  All of this information can be critical to provide efficient, effective and timely care in an emergency.

What do parents need to do?

So what do we do?  Most importantly we need to have each of our children, upon turning 18, sign a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney giving permission for us to speak on their behalf and participate in care decisions with doctors.

The next challenge is to make sure that those documents are available if they are ever needed.

FootprintID can provide a solution to the challenges outlined above and assist in closing the gap that exists in the sharing of health information.

All of one’s medical information and health history, including documents such as POA and Health Care Proxies can be stored in one HIPAA compliant location.  It is then immediately accessible to parents, the child, health care providers and emergency personnel.  The information can be retrieved via web portal, smartphone app or our 24 hour call center.

Here is a link to a video that easily explains this service and how it can be beneficial to you, and your child as they head off to college.

Why FootprintID Video

The college experience is made up of many components.  Academics are primary, but also learning to manage one’s finances, health, social experiences, life is crucial to the maturation process that takes place during these years.  If we can keep our children safer by knowing their medical information is on hand and allowing us to participate in their care, at the same time that they learn to manage their own health experiences, everybody wins.  As parents it would certainly help us sleep better at night.

College Prep Stress: Into the Pressure Cooker


college prep stress

I have a few friends whose sons are applying to college. The stress and the pressure students face regarding college is palpable. The question bears asking: How do you help your student navigate the process without adding your own college prep stress and pressure? Trust me; it’s not easy. Parents have their own kind of pressure related to college. Most of it revolves around the question: How will we pay for it?

So here is my best advice related to those two important questions.

How do you help your student navigate the process without adding your own stress and pressure?

You must in every circumstance remain calm. This is only one of many choices your soon-to-be adult will make in his life. This is the time when you transition from being a hands-on parent to being a supportive parent. I know that’s easier said than done. It’s hard after making all their decisions for 18 years to step back and let them chart their own course. But this act, in itself, will help alleviate stress for both you and your student.

Once you take a step back, the logical course for you is to become an encourager and coach. You can offer advice, help in the decision-making process and keep track of filing dates and deadlines, make travel plans for college visits and provide tutoring support if needed. This frees your student up for the important tasks: test prep, choosing the colleges, and filing out the applications. Your student knows what is expected of him and you know how you can help. Less stress for both parent and student.

How do you remove the money worries and stress around paying for college?

I can’t tell you how many emails I have received from parents whose students applied and were accepted to a college the parents can’t afford to pay for. The excitement of acceptance is overshadowed by the reality that the student won’t be able to attend due to lack of funds.

The only way to avoid this inevitable disappointment is to do your homework. Before your student applies, do some research about the college. How much does the college cost? What do students typically pay (this is usually not the sticker price)? Does it have a high acceptance rate? What type of aid does it award to students? Do they typically award a large percentage of their incoming freshman substantial financial aid? Is your student at the top of the applicant pool therefore increasing his chances of receiving merit aid? And finally, estimate your EFC (Expected Family Contribution).

After the research is done, how much can you afford to pay? If the college doesn’t award aid, can you pay the difference between the cost of the college and your EFC? Is your student willing to put in the effort to apply and win scholarships to help with the cost?

Once you have all the information, your student should only apply to colleges that are within your ability to pay with a reasonable expectation of merit aid if needed. It doesn’t make sense for him to apply to a $50,000 a year college if you don’t have the means or the ability to pay. Parents often feel pressured into letting their student attend and take out massive student and parent loans to foot the cost. This is not a wise decision and can cause added stress and pressure that is unnecessary.

There are also other ways you can avoid the stress of college prep. Read my article for TeenLife Magazine, Helping Your Teen De-Stress About College Prep, for some additional information.