Top 6 Things to do the Summer before your Senior Year

The summer before your senior year can make or break your college application experience. Save yourself the stress with Ivy Academic Prep’s top 6 tips.

1. Intern or Volunteer

While the summer may be a great time to work on your tan, you should also be working on your resume. If there are internship programs available in your area that interest you, apply. If you are having trouble finding an internship, volunteer with a local organization. Do not take on an internship or a volunteer position that is not in line with your interests – this will come off as disingenuous in your college applications.

Not sure where to look? Here are some of our suggestions:

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If you are interested in STEM, look at research laboratories, volunteer with organizations advocating for underrepresented groups in the sciences, or work at a science camp for young children. If you are interested in humanities or liberal arts, get involved with local politics, explore local creative writing groups, or volunteer at an art collective. Many hospitals, labs, and corporations have internship programs that are easy to apply to. You just need to visit their websites to learn more. Or, you can start your own organization if none of the available options speak to you.

If you are not in a financial situation to work at an internship or volunteer, working a non-academically oriented job over the summer is a great option as well. It will show colleges that you are hard working, mature, and willing to take your family’s financial obligations into your own hands.

 

2. Create a list of attributes you are looking for in a college

The college search process can be overwhelming, and many colleges can appear similar at first glance. Prioritizing what is important to you in a college when you begin your search can save a lot of future hassle. Once you figure out what is important to you in a college, you can highlight these specific attributes in your college application essays – notably in the classic “why this college” essay question.

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Some of our suggestions of important attributes include: the size of the college, option to live on-campus all four years, Greek life, financial and merit based aid, academic programs, sports teams, community vibe, retention rate, and geographic location.

 

3. Create an initial list of 10 schools

Once you figure out what is important to you in a college, start searching for colleges that you are excited about. You may want to categorize colleges into three categories: safety, match, and reach schools. We suggest you try to find three colleges for each category initially. Every school publishes their median SAT/ACT scores and GPA for each of their admitted classes. While schools review applications holistically, and other factors including letters of recommendation and extracurricular activities are also important, you can compare your standardized test scores and GPA to the median scores for colleges of interest to get an initial idea of where you may fall. If your scores are significantly over a college’s median, you can categorize this as a “safety” school. Similarly, if your scores are below the median, you can categorize this as a “reach” school. Furthermore, colleges publish their acceptance rates, which can be used to categorize these schools. For example, even if your scores are well above the median for a school with a 4-10% admit rate, this should still be categorized as a “reach” school.

After you find colleges within each category that you are excited about, write down a notes as to why you are excited about them and what makes them stand out in your mind.

4. Obtain your letters of recommendation

Obtain letters of recommendation as early as possible, especially if you attend to a large high school. The earlier you ask for your letter of recommendation, the higher chance you have for your recommender to spend more time on it before others start to ask.

Spend some time thinking about who knows you the best and who will highlight different aspects of your personality, academic work, and interests. Remember, the best recommenders are the ones who know you the best, not the ones who have the best “titles” or accolades.

If you are completing a summer internship or volunteering before senior year, a great “additional recommender” could come from a summer mentor. For a summer experience mentor, ask them for a recommendation one week before you complete your work. This way you can still have face-to-face contact with the recommender to answer any additional questions and to remind them of important common application deadlines

 

5.  Explore the Common Application essay topics

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The Common Application essay topics are released early for a reason – the longer you work on your essay, the better it will be. Check out the 7 Common Application essay topics and start brainstorming stories that would pair well with a few essay topics that interest you. The best essays are not the “craziest” stories or most “interesting,” rather they are essays that demonstrate who you are as a person and showcase a side of you that is not evident from simply reading your resume. Similarly, colleges are not interested in essays that only speak to your academic accomplishments and intellectual prowess; they can see this from the other aspects of your common application. Think of this essay as your one chance to showcase something that colleges would not get the opportunity to see otherwise. Brainstorming with people who know you well is a great idea if you are stuck and a good way to keep your essays genuine. Once you have some ideas, start drafting a few essays – you may find one idea lends itself easier to the 650-word limit.

 

6. Complete a state-school application

While state schools may not be on everyone’s radar, applying to your local state school as early as possible has many benefits. Most state-schools open applications at the end of the summer, and have earlier deadlines to receive merit-based aid than other schools. Applying to a state school early allows you to familiarize yourself with the overall application process so that you are ready to go when it comes time to apply to other colleges with later deadlines. Private institutions that use the common application allow you to apply to your state’s public schools at the same time or before you apply to private colleges.

Similarly, check out any college scholarship programs with early deadlines to see if you qualify and are interested in applying. There are many great scholarship opportunities that have very early deadlines. The applications for these scholarship programs will often ask you for an essay that is similar to a Common Application essay. Use this as an opportunity to start working on essays that could be tailored into your Common Application essay. Furthermore, if you receive one of these scholarships you will have time to add this award to your college applications before submitting.

 

How are you spending your Summer? Do you have any tips or insights that you want to share? Join the conversation and share your tips by posting in the comment section below. Or, if you want personalized, 1-on-1 help from a college admissions expert, click here to get started today.

 

 

Posted by Matthew T. Riley, Ph.D., Director – Ivy Academic Prep

Matt has 15 years of experience helping students and families apply for college. He is also is a former Yale University faculty member, an award winning teacher, and a father.

7 Simple Strategies for Getting Your Kids Excited About College

Being a parent is time consuming.

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Whether you are a latte-fueled Supermom shuttling your kids between eight different after-school activities or an overworked professional who is feeding your kids macaroni and cheese for the second time this week because you just can’t find the time to stop at the grocery store, you are probably feeling overwhelmed by life.  

And, just when it seemed as if you couldn’t possibly fit one more thing into your schedule, it suddenly dawns on you that you should be encouraging your kids to plan for college.

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Okay, don’t freak out just yet. Put down the box of mac and cheese, take a sip of your latte, and take a deep breath. It is going to be okay.

You’ve got this.

All you need is a little balance and a way to get started. 

Planning for college doesn’t have to be stressful and it doesn’t have to consume every moment of your life. In fact, the main reason that helping your kids prepare for college seems so overwhelming is simply because you don’t know when or where to begin.

Knowing when to begin is the easy part: You should begin now. And when I say “now,” I don’t mean that you have to plan every little detail and sink months of time and energy into it.

Don’t try to do everything all at once.

In fact, you should resist the urge to feel like you have to do everything. Whether we like it or not, applying to college is your kid’s job, not yours. You are there to supervise, to help, and to encourage your child. These are things that take time…lots of time. So start early.  

All of us want our children to be happy, to experience success, and to feel supported. In fact, you’ve been there for them since the day they were born to change their diapers, put Band-Aids on their knees, and to protect them from the dangers of sugar by secretly eating their Halloween candy after they are safely asleep in bed.

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But for most kids, choosing which schools to apply to and filling out college applications is the first major “adult” decision that they will have to make in their lives. And applying to college isn’t something that happens overnight. Your child needs time to learn about college and to understand what choices they have. This is a process that takes years, not months.

Instead of spoon-feeding your teenager information about colleges, you should empower them to seek out information and to learn what interests them. Ideally, you should start doing this sometime during their freshman or sophomore year of high school.

As a college admissions counselor, one of the first things that I usually discover when I meet with a new client is that the student I am helping knows very little about college. Most of them can’t name more than two or three local universities, they don’t more than a handful of careers that college can prepare them for, and most of them have never even stepped foot on a college campus.

No wonder they don’t know what schools they want to apply to or what they want to major in!

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The fact of the matter is simply that most students don’t know how many amazing and fun options are available to them. To remedy this lack of knowledge, here are 7 ideas that you can put into action today that will get your child excited about their college applications and help them learn more about the limitless options that they can choose from:

 

1. College Campuses are Fantastic Places for Entertainment

Take your child to events on college campuses. One of the biggest perks of living near a college or university is the fact that you have year-round access to world-class entertainment and performers. Whether you and your family love going to sporting events, hearing the world’s greatest classical musicians, listening to lectures by prominent intellectuals and world leaders, or immersing yourselves in theatre and dance, most campuses host hundreds of events every year that are fun and family-friendly. In fact, many major universities have world-class entertainers visiting their campus and tickets are usually cheap and easy to buy.

 This cello changed my life. 

This cello changed my life. 

Still not convinced? In my time as a college admissions expert, I’ve laughed my way through Jerry Seinfeld’s standup routine, I’ve been spellbound by the music of 18-time Grammy award winning musician Yo Yo Ma, and I’ve sat riveted in my seat as I listed to Paul McCartney and Jimmy Carter speak. 

And here is the kicker…tickets to the majority of those events cost less than $20 and a few of them were even free.

So what are you waiting for? Take your kids to a college campus to have some fun. Try to make it a routine to do something on a campus at least once a year. 

 

2. Wear College Apparel 

While you are on campus, take some time to visit the bookstore and have your child pick out a sweatshirt or hat to take home.

It may sound silly, but even something as simple as wearing a hat with a university’s logo on it can make a teen feel invested and excited about a school.

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When I was growing up, someone gave me a sweatshirt with a Notre Dame logo on it. I would wear it after soccer practice and sometimes at home when I was playing video games with my friends. In a way, Notre Dame became a regular part of my life. I also had a pen from UCLA that I used when doing my homework. It wasn’t even a very nice pen…but I loved it anyway.

To be honest, I don’t even remember who gave me those things. And, even though I didn’t go to either of those schools, I’ve always felt a sense of excitement and investment in UCLA and Notre Dame. And because I was excited about those schools, I started paying attention to other schools as well.

Sometimes the little things can make all the difference.

 

3. Get Online, Get Mail, and Get Educated about College

Have your child go to four or five college websites and look at the admissions pages. Even if they don’t think they want to go to a school, have them fill out the prospective student form so that the university can start sending you brochures and other literature about life at the school.

Most universities will send your child glossy brochures and newsletters about the admissions process at least twice a year. Most teens don’t get much mail, and they aren’t old enough to experience to horror of paying bills, so mail is still an exciting and enchanting thing for them.

Colleges and universities spend millions of dollars each year on these mailings. Why? Because they are effective at getting young people interested in their school. Use that fact to your advantage.

 

4. Like and Follow Colleges on Social Media

 Like us on Facebook.

Like us on Facebook.

Encourage your kids to go on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets and follow some schools that interest them. This is a great way to hear about upcoming events and to get engaged.

Plus, taking an interest in a college on social media tends to have a ripple effect. If your child “likes” the University of Chicago Facebook page, then they will probably start getting suggestions for other universities that they might “like.” Hopefully, this will introduce your child to schools and news sources that will help them learn more about applying to college.

 

5. Take a Tour

Every college and university offers tours of their campuses. Most of these tours are led by current students and you can often get an inside look at the important buildings on campus.

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Tours can also be fun as well. As one of my fellow admissions counselor recently said to me, campus tours “are the best free vacation that money can buy.”

Be sure to stop by the admissions office at the end of the tour to pick up brochures and to say hello to the staff. Some admissions offices keep track of who visits and who takes the tours and having that sort of “demonstrated interest” in a school can make a positive, albeit small, impact on your child’s admissions chances.

 

6. Sit in on a Class or Lecture at a Nearby University

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Most colleges allow high school students opportunities to visit classes. There is nothing quite so eye-opening for a high school student than to spend an afternoon sitting in a college lecture hall learning about something that interests them. Even if a college doesn’t publicize information about visiting classes, most admissions offices will be more than happy to help your child plan a visit.

 

7. Meet with a Current College Student

Create opportunities for your child to interact with college students. Many schools have student volunteers who will give high school students personalized, 1-on-1 tours of campus or take them to classes.

There are even schools that invite high school students to stay the night in their dorms so that they can get a feel for college life.

You also probably have family members or neighbors who have kids in college. Most of them will be more than happy to meet with your child for a coffee and to tell them a little bit about college life.

The important thing here is that you find a way for your high school student to meet and interact with a real college student instead of just relying on third-hand information. 

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These are just a few of the hundreds of practical steps that you can take as you get your child ready for their college applications. However, at the heart of these suggestions are a few key concepts that need to be kept in mind. If you are going to be successful with any of these techniques, you will also need to:

  • Know your child.
  • Listen to them.
  • Make it personal.
  • Do your own research.
  • Appeal to their interests.
  • Know when to step back and let them lead. 

 

Did I miss any important practical steps in this list? Did you have success with a different technique? Join the conversation and share your tips by posting in the comment section below. Or, if you want personalized 1-on-1 help with college admissions, click here to get started today.

 

 

Posted by Matthew T. Riley, Ph.D., Director – Ivy Academic Prep

Matt has 15 years of experience helping students and families apply for college. He is also is a former Yale University faculty member, an award winning teacher, and a father.

What Are Freshmen Thinking? The Beloit Mindset List.

This year’s class of college Freshmen are the last of the Millennials. Yup, that’s right, they are the last group of students to be born in the 1990s.

For them, Bill Clinton is just Hillary’s quiet husband and Family Guy has always been on TV. They’ve never had to suffer through the warbling whine of a dial-up modem and they are more likely to think of a “phone” as something that gives you directions and connects you to Facebook than as a device used for making actual phone calls.

Feeling old yet? To help faculty and clueless parents how to better understand this year’s incoming freshman class, Beloit College has released its annual Mindset List for the Class of 2021. Here it is:

1.     Their classmates could include Eddie Murphy’s Zola and Mel Gibson’s Tommy, or Jackie Evancho singing down the hall.

2.     They are the last class to be born in the 1900s, the last of the Millennials --  enter next year, on cue, Generation Z! 

3.     They are the first generation for whom a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, and research library.

4.     Electronic signatures have always been as legally binding as the pen-on-paper kind.

5.     In college, they will often think of themselves as consumers, who’ve borrowed a lot of money to be there.

6.     eHarmony has always offered an algorithm for happiness.

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7.     Peanuts comic strips have always been repeats.

8.     They have largely grown up in a floppy-less world.

9.     They have never found Mutual Broadcasting or Westinghouse Group W on the radio dial, but XM has always offered radio programming for a fee.

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10.  There have always been emojis to cheer us up.

11.  The Panama Canal has always belonged to Panama and Macau has been part of China.

12.  It is doubtful that they have ever used or heard the high-pitched whine of a dial-up modem.

13.  They were never able to use a Montgomery Ward catalogue as a booster seat.

14.  Donald Trump has always been a political figure, as a Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican.

15.  Zappos has always meant shoes on the Internet.

16.  They are the first generation to grow up with Watson outperforming Sherlock.                                                                                

17.  Amazon has always invited consumers to follow the arrow from A to Z.

18.  Their folks have always been able to get reward points by paying their taxes to the IRS on plastic.

19.  In their lifetimes, Blackberry has gone from being a wild fruit to being a communications device to becoming a wild fruit again. 

20.  They have always been searching for Pokemon.

21.  They may choose to submit a listicle in lieu of an admissions essay.    

22.  Dora the Explorer and her pet monkey Boots helped to set them on the course of discovery.

23.  The seat of Germany’s government has always been back in Berlin.

24.  Jet Blue has always been a favorite travel option but the Concorde has been permanently grounded.

25.  By the time they entered school, laptops were outselling desktops.

26.  There has never been a Coliseum in New York, but there has always been a London Eye on the Thames.

27.  Once on campus, they will find that college syllabi, replete with policies about disability, non-discrimination, and learning goals, might be longer than some of their reading assignments.

28.  As toddlers they may have dined on some of that canned food hoarded in case of Y2K.

29.  An ophthalmologist named Bashar al-Assad has always provided vision for the Syrian military.

30.  Whatever the subject, there’s always been a blog for it.                         

31.  U.S. Supreme Court decisions have always been available at its website.

32.  Globalization has always been both a powerful fact of life and a source of incessant protest.

33.  One out of four major league baseball players has always been born outside the United States.

34.  Carl Sagan has always had his own crater on Mars. 

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35.  A movie scene longer than two minutes has always seemed like an eternity. 

36.  The Latin music industry has always had its own Grammy Awards.

37.  Ketchup has always come in green.

38.  They have only seen a Checker Cab in a museum.

39.  Men have always shared a romantic smooch on television.

40.  They never got to see Jimmy Kimmel and Ben Stein co-host a quiz show or Dennis Miller provide commentary for the NFL.

41.  As toddlers, they may have taught their grandparents how to Skype.

42.  The image of Sacagawea has always adorned the dollar coin, if you can find one.

43.  Having another child has always been a way to secure matching tissue to heal an older sibling.

44.  There have always been Latino players on the ice in the NHL.

45.  Napster has always been evolving.

46.  Nolan Ryan has always worn his Texas Rangers cap in Cooperstown, while Steve Young and Dan Marino have always been watching football from the sidelines.

47.  The BBC has always had a network in the U.S. where they speak American.

48.  There has never been a sanctioned Texas A&M bonfire.

49.  There has always been a Monster in their corner when looking for a job.

50.  Wikipedia has steadily gained acceptance by their teachers.

51.  Justin Timberlake has always been a solo act.

52.  U.S. professional baseball teams have always played in Cuba.

53.  Barbie and American Girl have always been sisters at Mattel.

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54.  Family Guy is the successor to the Father Knows Best they never knew.

55.  Motorola and Nokia have always been incredibly shrinking giants.

56.  Melissa has always been too nice a name to be attached to a computer macro virus.

57.  The Mars Polar Lander has always been lost.

58.  Women have always scaled both sides of Everest and rowed across the Atlantic.

59.  Bill Clinton has always been Hillary Clinton’s aging husband.

60.  Paleontologists have always imagined dinosaurs with colorful plumage.

 

Did they leave anything out? Want to add your own item to the list? Leave us a comment below.

And remember, if you are planning on going to college, Ivy Academic Prep can help you with your college applications.

5 Simple Strategies for Getting a Top 1% Score on the LSAT or GRE

You have the potential to get a top 1% score on the LSAT or GRE test. Each year, roughly 100,000 people take the LSAT test and 500,000 take the GRE. Out of those 600,000 people, only a few thousand were fortunate enough to score in the top 1%. Who were those people getting elite scores? A small handful of them were exactly what you would expect. They are the class valedictorians, the children of high-powered lawyers and famous university professors, and some are obsessive studiers who spent years preparing for that one big moment. It’s no surprise that many of these elite few did so well on test day. But don’t worry if you aren’t one of those people, you do have what it takes to get a top 1% score on the LSAT or GRE. You really do!

Most of the people who score in the top 1% on the LSAT and GRE are normal people just like you and me. We have something more important than impressive pedigrees and years of preparation: we have passion and the ability to create and carry out an intelligent game plan. Yes, it is that simple. Anyone, and I do mean anyone, can score in the top 1% of a standardized test. You just need to combine two key ingredients: passion and planning. That it. All you need is passion and a plan.

Say it with me: All I need is passion and a plan.

If you’ve read this far, it’s fairly safe to assume that you have the passion. You want to succeed. You have big goals in life and you are determined to make a difference. But what about a plan for conquering your big test? While everyone who scores in the top 1% of the GRE or the LSAT followed a different game plan that is unique to them, we’ve asked top scorers what the most important parts of their plan were and we are ready to share those secrets with you.

Use these 5 tips from the pros to get started on your path to becoming an elite 1% scorer on the LSAT or GRE:

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1. Prioritize Your Mental and Physical Health

Elite students and professional athletes know a secret about being successful that most of us just don’t seem to understand. Are you ready to hear it? Its simple: you are a human being. Most people know they are human, but they don’t really comprehend the significance of it. We are living, breathing creatures. We are emotional. We get tired and we need time to rest and recover. The LSAT and the GRE are both more than tests of your intellect, they are also tests of your mental and physical endurance.

You can train your body and your brain for peak performance just like a professional athlete. If you want peak performance on test day, then that means that you need time to rest, you need time away from the test prep books, and you need things like plenty of sleep and a healthy diet. The people that score in the top 1% of the LSAT and GRE usually don’t drink gallons of coffee and put themselves through all-night study sessions. Their desks aren’t buried under mountains of empty candy wrappers and dirty coffee cups. They eat well, they sleep well, they feel well, and because of that they perform well. Sure, having an occasional cup of coffee or tea can help you focus, but you need to pace yourself.

Moreover, top scorers on standardized tests also understand that your biggest enemy is your own self. You will doubt your ability, you will feel anxiety and fear, you might even have a few moments of panic where all you want to do is open a pint of ice cream and start binging on Netflix. It’s natural to feel this way. In fact, more than a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s met their fate when I was studying for the GRE. It happens. Deal with it and move on.

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Remember, you are human. That’s the big secret. And part of being human is learning how to recognize, manage, and work with those emotions and psychological realities. Everyone is different, but never underestimate the power of simple exercises like deep breathing, stretching, and pausing occasionally to assess and rethink your feelings. Even something as simple as taking a 20 second break to stretch your shoulders and to take in a few deep breaths after answering a difficult question on your test can mean the difference of a point or two on your score. Those little points make all of the difference in the world.

Make sure that your study plan includes a plan to manage your physical and mental health and build those habits into your studying. Make it a ritual to pause several times during your studying to stretch, take a few deep breaths, or even give yourself a mental pep talk during your practice sessions. Do this like clockwork while you practice so that it becomes a habit.

LSAT GRE psychological emotional test

When I was studying for the GRE, I made it a point to pause for a stretch about once every 20 questions. I did it every time I studied. I did it while I was studying in coffee shops, I did it at the library, and I did it at home. Yes, I was that weird guy at the coffee shop who was rolling his shoulders and touching his toes in public places. Sure, it was embarrassing at first. But you know what? When my test day finally arrived, I had built up a healthy habit to manage my tension and stress.

I walked into the test center feeling calm and centered. While everyone else was sweating bullets and hunched over their computer screens furiously taking the GRE, I was taking regular breaks to stretch and breathe. I looked relaxed and I felt great. Despite my sense of calm, and my Zen-like exterior, I was feeling razor sharp mentally. My habits kept me calm and focused and because of that I was able to answer questions with the practiced ease of a seasoned pro.

When I left the test center, one woman even stopped me and talked to me about my relaxed attitude. In her eyes, my relaxed demeanor and the fact that I took frequent breaks could only mean that I hadn’t taken the test seriously. “Why, she asked, “weren’t you focused on the test? Don’t you know this will affect your chances of getting into grad school?” She looked at me with pity when I told her that I was just taking my time and trying not to stress out.

As we parted ways she told me, with a gentle pat on the shoulder, that I should have been more focused and that timing was very important for getting good scores. I just smiled and laughed. I never saw her again, but I’m sure that if she saw my 99th percentile scores, she would be rethinking her misguided advice.

You are human and you can either let your own limitations hurt you on test day or use your humanity to your advantage. Be smart and acknowledge your humanity.

Build habits that will distress you and put your body in peak condition on test day. It pays off!

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2. You Can’t Do It Alone

Most “geniuses” don’t work alone and neither should you. You need someone to study with. A person much wiser than me once said that “genius is like asparagus, it grows in bunches.” In our culture, we seem to have forgotten this. We are in love with the image of the lonely genius, the high-powered intellectuals who innovate and invent in the privacy of their office or apartment. They are portrayed as disheveled and obsessed, working all hours of the night. Our movies and books are filled with these kinds of individuals, often presented to us as historical fact. Well, I have news for you, most of those stories are wrong. Geniuses are rarely isolated individuals. Don’t believe the hype.

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Bill Gates didn’t start Microsoft all by himself. You may have never heard of Paul Allen, but trust me, Bill Gates didn’t become the richest person in the world all by himself. They did it together and with the help of thousands of other people. Even famous artists like Vincent van Gogh weren’t always isolated and tortured individuals. Van Gogh would not have painted his famous Sunflower paintings if he hadn’t been collaborating with Paul Gauguin.

So what is my point here? You can’t be an isolated genius. Finding somebody to help you in your studies is a great way to reach that goal of a top 1% score on your LSAT or GRE.

Real geniuses know that you need to surround yourself with people who inspire you and help you achieve greatness. Remember: Asparagus grows in bunches. Be like asparagus. Find someone else to grow with you and to help you grow.

Yes, the overwhelming majority of your LSAT or GRE preparation will be spent alone taking practice tests and going over your books in a quiet library or at your desk. I shudder every time I think of how many hours I spent at my local library, doggedly tackling practice questions. It was brutal. You have to study on your own. You have to do it A LOT.

But, you don’t have to be alone all the time.

You should also find someone to work with you from time to time. Study with a friend or roommate once a week or join a study group that meets at a local university or coffee shop a few times a month. Ask your boyfriend or girlfriend to quiz you during a long car ride. Call your mom and talk to her about it. Heck, talk to your cat or dog about studying. They are great listeners! Even just venting to a friend about your studies every once in a while can make a world of difference. Better yet, hire a trained professional tutor like those at Ivy Academic to teach you and keep you on track. The more support you get, the better your score will be.

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3. Study Strategically

The majority of people who plan on taking the LSAT or the GRE buy a couple of test prep books and work through them cover to cover. Most people also get disappointing scores on the LSAT and GRE. Ouch. Don’t be “most people.”

Most people don’t get top scores because they aren’t being truly deliberate in their approach. But you can get a top 1% score because you are going to be strategic.

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You need to create a study plan that optimizes your time. This begins with assessment. After familiarizing yourself with the test and doing a few practice problems, you need to take an assessment test. This should be an official LSAT or GRE test taken under timed conditions.

After you do this, take a deep breath. You probably failed miserably.

I’m not even going to tell you what my assessment scores on the GRE and LSAT were…they were bad. Really, really bad. And yours probably will be too. But don’t worry, that’s the point of an assessment. You need to figure out where your weaknesses are.

Once you know which parts of the test you are good at and which parts make you want to curl up into a ball and binge-eat ice cream in front of the television for the next six months, you now have a sense of how you should plan your studying. You need to turn your weaknesses into strengths.

Get off the couch, put down the ice cream, and start working on those weaknesses. That means finding specific resources to focus on the parts of the test that are the most difficult to do. You’ll need lots of books, you can download practice questions online, and you can even find some practice tests to work with. Variety is the key here because you need to attack those weaknesses from every possible angle.

You’ll also need to do more than just study from a book. You should plan timed and untimed drills, you need to seek expert advice, and you need to constantly reassess your strengths and weaknesses so that your study plan targets key skills. Don’t waste your time over-preparing on the sections you are already good at. Time is precious. Be strategic and conquer those weaknesses first. Of course, if you need help assessing your skills and you want a game plan to help you ace the test, Ivy Academic Prep has got you covered.

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4. Create a Schedule and Stick to It.

If you are going to study strategically and if you’re going to take care of your mental and physical health at the same time, you’ll need to create a schedule. People who earn a top 1% score on the LSAT and GRE usually study a few hours a day, every day, for 3-4 months.

Compare this to how the average person studies for the LSAT or GRE: The average person crams in marathon study sessions on weekends and then spends the last week or two before their test day staying up late and studying frantically to get caught up. They are stressed, they are frazzled, and they are full of doubt. Unfortunately for them, they also have the unimpressive test scores to prove it.

Here is how you will be more strategic:

First, you need to set aside 2-3 hours a day, 6 days a week to study with a little bit of extra time during the last few weeks. Some of those days, perhaps once every 2 weeks, you’ll need a bigger chunk of time where you can take a timed practice test.

Having a day off is important, so make sure you give yourself one day each week to let your brain rest. Use that day to relax, hang out with friends, and do some self-care like working out or going hiking.

Second, you need to plan out what you will be doing on each day. Around 70% of your time should be allocated to working on the parts of the test that are most difficult for you. The rest of your time should be spent on the easy parts of the test.

Third, you’ll need to fit in some practice tests as I mentioned before. These tests are your diagnostics that will help you shape and modify your schedule as you progress in your studies. These tests should emulate real tests. That means putting away your cell phone, locking the door, and working under strict time restraints. The most common complaint from test takers is that there isn’t enough time on test day. Being able to perform well under strict time conditions is crucial.

One of the key strategies our top scorers report using was to take a practice test once every couple of weeks during your first month or two of studying. Then, when you are about three or four weeks away from test day, you should start taking regular practice tests at least twice a week. When I took the LSAT, the last 7 study sessions were dedicated entirely to taking timed tests or portions of timed tests. This put me into test mode and when test day finally arrived, working under timed conditions was a breeze because I’d already been doing it all week.

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Lastly, and this is very important and it will make a big difference on test day, you need to build extra time into your schedule for relaxation right before your official test day.

Don’t study the night before the test and certainly don’t study the morning of the test. Your brain needs to be rested. If it isn’t rested, you’ll lose focus and lose valuable points. Yes, if you need to, you can spend ten or fifteen minutes doing a few warm-up questions to get your mind ready before the test, but don’t spend more time than that.

Let’s repeat that last point. You need to relax the night before and the morning of the test. You might even want to take a few other days off as well. When I took the GRE, I only studied on 3 days during the last week and spent the rest of my time taking hikes, going to the movies, and playing board games with my friends. I didn’t cram for the test because I already had the right skills. Instead, I gave myself the time I needed both mentally and physically to be well rested for test day.

Another person, Natalie, who scored a 174 on the LSAT, studied each and every day during the last week before the test, but she only dedicated for about 30 minutes per session instead of the usual 2-3 hours. She knew that it would make her worry and doubt herself if she took whole days off like I did, so she just dialed her study time back a few notches. Everyone is different, so how you create time for rest will look different for you.

The key is to create time for rest and to resist the temptation to do last minute cramming.

Write your schedule down on a calendar. I like to use Google Calendar, others like to have a paper calendar which they hang on the wall above their desk, and others prefer to use apps on their smartphones to manage their time. The key is to plan it out, write it down, and follow through with your plan.

Now that you’ve written your schedule out, you’ll need to implement it. The schedule is your key to success. Stick to that schedule. Live the schedule. Be the schedule.

5. Have fun

Here’s another well-guarded secret. You are going to have to study hard, it is going to be painful, and there will be days where you are going to want to quit. But that doesn’t mean that it always has to be that way.

People who get exceptional LSAT and GRE scores and students who get straight A’s in school usually don’t get great results because they make themselves miserable. They get good grades because they love to learn. This means that they enjoy studying and they find ways to make it fun.

Felipe, another top 1% scorer on the LSAT, put a jar on his kitchen counter when he was studying for his test. For every hour that he studied, he put a five-dollar bill in the jar. By the end of his 3 months of studying he had saved up enough money to take his fiancé on a weekend beach trip. Every time he put money in that jar he dreamt about sunny skies, ice cold drinks, and swimming in the ocean. It gave him something to look forward to. It made it fun. And you know what? He got a 173 on the LSAT and the very next day he and his fiancé were on a beach sipping cocktails.  

Linda, who aced the GRE, had just moved to New York City when she started studying for the test. Since she was new in town, and since she had to spend a few hours studying each day, she decided that she would find a new coffee shop to study in each and every week. Instead of being a chore, studying became an adventure! She explored neighborhoods all over the city, she discovered other interesting places like bars and museums that were off the beaten track, and she met dozens of new friends. Not only did she conquer the GRE, but she discovered a whole new city in the process.

So let’s sum it all up. Getting the best scores on the LSAT and the GRE is complicated. But, there are some key things that you should be doing: You need to prioritize your mental and physical health, you will get better results by finding people who can help you, being strategic in your studying will make you stand out from the crowd, sticking to a schedule is absolutely essential, and you should also try to have fun studying.

And, as always, Ivy Academic Prep is here to help you with our elite 1-on-1 test prep tutoring. Working with one of our elite one-on-one LSAT or GRE tutors can give you a competitive edge that will give your scores a much-needed boost.

You can get a top 1% score. You have the passion and now you have a plan….Be smart, be strategic, be successful. Good luck!

Posted by, Matthew T. Riley, PhD. Founder and Director of Ivy Academic Prep.