Tips on preparing for exams and applying to schools.

By Ellen Richards
Catherine McCord

Parents set the tone for their children’s academic success.

Many people mistakenly believe that education begins in high school when students realize the competition involved in gaining admission to college. Parents and students do themselves a huge favor to remember that the earlier one fosters an appreciation for education, the more likely they will achieve academically.

What are some ways to bolster interest among students?

  1. Consider summer enrichment programs in an area of the student’s passion, such as sports, music or language. It is important that students explore various areas of interest to foster the development of a passion.
  2. Encourage children to learn a foreign language. Knowledge of other languages prepares students to excel in an increasingly global economy, while also exposing them to a them to another culture which can enrich their overall learning experience.
  3. Discuss your child’s academic expectations in a meaningful way. Engage your child when he asks questions or seeks more information about a topic. Mentoring your child in this manner encourages intellectual exploration.

Lead your child down the path of self-discovery. Send the right message early: education is not about getting into college, education is about learning from new experiences and thinking critically about the world.

Middle School Students: Ideas for how to make the most out of summer

The summer offers a variety of opportunities to step outside your comfort zone. Here are some ideas to help you make your summer not only fun, but meaningful:

Take some time for you. Relax, reflect, recharge, refocus.
Put some thought into your long-term goals, such as college and career choices. The main goal of having alone time is to get to know yourself better, so it doesn’t matter what you do – take a walk, listen to your favorite music, write in a journal, lay on the beach – just take some time for you.

To be better, better get going!
The summer is a great time to think back on both the positive and challenging experiences you’ve had over the past year. Consider the lessons you’ve learned about yourself and life. Think about how you can apply what you’ve learned to next year and the goals you have set for yourself. If you’ve developed some awesome habits, that’s great! Now think about how to apply them to next year’s challenges. If you’ve developed some not so awesome habits, think about how you can turn things around next you in order to ward off stress and disappointment in your life. Now, gear up and get ready to have an awesome and worthwhile summer!

Get paid for your work.
A summer job will allow you to make money for your summer activities (or college savings) and to get experience that will set a great foundation for your future. Prove that you will be successful at college once you are on your own.

Learn something outside of school.
Take advantage of the broad range of courses, both academic and otherwise at your local college or high school. Replace mindless computer games with games that keep students’ analytical skills fresh. This way students can continue to enjoy the stimulation of computer graphics and challenges to which they have become accustomed, while exercising their brains. Regardless of a student’s grade level, it should not be difficult to identify at least one math computer game that stimulates a student’s mind and keeps learning fun.

Prepare for next year.
Students who prepare for the upcoming year not only by sharpening skills they learned already, but also by previewing what they will learn starting in the fall perform much better in school than those who do not. After all, preparation is the key to success so the earlier students realize the importance of planning ahead the more success they will gain long term.

In today’s world so few students sit down and read a book for pleasure. Visit the library. Experiment with different genres. Search for books unlike those required for school and identify books with storylines that keep a student’s interest. While you may be tempted to let you mind turn to mush over the summer, reading a book, any book, will keep your mind active and imaginative.

Go out on a limb.
If you’ve always dreamed of doing something – writing a book, painting a self-portrait, learning to play guitar, starting your own business – go for it! Do something you never thought possible. Summer offers students a time to do so many activities that their schedules during the school year do not permit. We live in an age of technology and so many opportunities are available for students to explore. Another idea? Start a business; teen entrepreneurs are no longer a novelty!

High school juniors: jump-start your college action plan

As tempting as it might be to goof off and sit in the pool the summer before your senior year in high school, plan ahead and map out the next few months. With a little effort the college application process will not seem nearly as daunting in the fall.

Standardized tests:

  • We always encourage every student to complete all their standardized tests before the summer begins. After all, who wants the burden of that stress all summer? Also, knowing your score may help guide your school choices.
  • For students who still need to complete the test requirement, do so efficiently.
  • Students can choose between the ACT and SAT. All colleges accept both but some require two Subject Tests if a student submits the SAT.
  • Do not try to prepare for both tests. Statistics show that 66% of students perform significantly better on one test over the other. Determine which is best for you and focus on it.
  • Avoid the trap of over-prepping and over stressing. Even for students who struggle with standardized exams these tests do not reward months and months of preparation or wasted time completing mindless “homework.” Learn what the test is about, consult with an expert who knows the strategies and confidently walk in knowing you will perform well.


  • The Common Application may not be available until August 1, but the short essay topic and long essay topic should be started immediately. The same applies to the UC application.
  • If you are not sure if a school requires a supplement, don’t wait until August 1; look on each individual college’s website – most schools post their supplements early.
  • Check non-Common App school websites throughout the summer so you can start as soon as they become available.
  • Applying to a Cal State? The application is already available and a word to the wise: get it in on October 1, the day they begin accepting applications.

It’s the little things…

  • Colleges love students who show “demonstrated interest.” Sign up on the website of every college you are considering.
  • Attend local fairs and college visits and always complete the forms that tell them you attended. All contact with schools is tracked and considered during the admissions process.
  • Decide who should write your letters of recommendation and show them the courtesy of allowing them plenty of time and providing them with information about yourself they may not otherwise know.
  • Work on portfolios, reels, writing, and enter contests in your area of interest. Stand out from other applicants by enabling your passions to shine. This could make all the difference in the world.

Ellen Richards Educational Services, Inc. offers an innovative and thoroughly researched diagnostic exam at no charge that combines elements of the SAT and ACT to identify students’ strengths, enabling them to decide which test to take. This effective, time saving diagnostic measures students’ natural abilities so they avoid wasting time, money and energy. Exams are administered in Beverly Hills throughout the summer every other Saturday morning beginning June 9.