How to Stay Productive During the Summer Break

Book&Table Test-Prep tutors talk study habits, benchmarks, and making time for fun in the sun.

Roundtable is a forum for tutors, parents, and students to discuss issues and trends in education. For each roundtable, we'll invite knowledgeable Book&Table community members to contribute their opinions, of course, we'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Summer vacation can be an incredible opportunity for students to grow or to backslide, so we asked tutors how they help their students take advantage of the time between school years and stay on track for September. Preparing for a big exam can be a lengthy process--what's the best way to help students keep track of their progress as they prepare for tests in the fall? What techniques keep students motivated and how can tutors help students maintain work/life balance? Is the summer the best time for students to buckle down--regardless of the distracting sunshine? Two Book&Table test-prep tutors weigh in.


Steven Shterenberg is an ivy league grad and current medical student tutoring in core sciences and the MCAT.

Steven Shterenberg is an ivy league grad and current medical student tutoring in core sciences and the MCAT.

Whether it’s being proactive in your studies, or bolstering your CV with an exciting internship or experience, your summer schedule should be anything but empty.
— Steven Shterenberg
 

Like most students, I anxiously await the outdoor adventure of summer days and the excitement of summer nights. After a long and strenuous school year, and what is always a particularly long spring semester, it is natural for us to set schoolwork aside for some R&R. Yet, with the break in our normally busy schedules, summer truly is the best opportunity to get ahead. Whether it's being proactive in your studies, or bolstering your CV with an exciting internship or experience, your summer schedule should be anything but empty. When it comes time for that employer or admissions committee member to review your resume, you can be sure that your summer experiences will be a focal point. And if a standardized test such as the MCAT or GMAT looms on your horizon, you’ll be happy you took advantage of your time to set yourself up for success.

To make studying less of a chore and more about personal development, I like to keep my students in control. Our first few sessions are always about understanding class performance to date, identifying trends and problem areas, and setting short- and long-term goals. Only after an honest discussion of what is holding us back can we hope to adjust behaviors and improve grades. I then set up a personalized schedule for each client, using their preferences to determine the frequency and intensity of tutoring/self-study. With a proper routine, students can take the stress out of prioritizing time for work vs. personal life.

Students are at their best when they meet or exceed their expectations. Therefore, it's important to set incremental goals and to celebrate every accomplishment. I like to take a couple of minutes at the end of each session to reflect on my student's progress, and thereby, chip away at the what once seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. The key is to build momentum; use each lesson to inform the next. I remember one physics student that was so frustrated with the concept of buoyancy (a good summer topic) that his anxiety would spill over into the remainder of his exams. When we met, I put together a worksheet of several dozen problems on the topic, and we went through each problem methodically. I would not let us move on until I was certain the student understood the concept, and moreover, demonstrated confidence in himself. This incremental approach is one I recommend to all students, and it is this sense of empowerment that I strive for with each of my clients.

While summer is a great time to relax, it’s not a time to shut off. With sixteen waking hours a day, you can doze and daze an awful lot and still sneak in tons of accomplishments before you know it.
— Jillian Roberts
Jillian Roberts is a veteran test-prep tutor and U.C. Berkeley graduate based in NYC.

Jillian Roberts is a veteran test-prep tutor and U.C. Berkeley graduate based in NYC.


Dear High-Schoolers,

Never tell your parents I said this, but blow open the hydrants! Wear open-toed shoes! Kiss on the mouth!

The broad beaches, shady picnics, and sunburns of summer feature prominently in my childhood memory. As they should. Summer is a bastion of hope and a time to remember, especially for the winter of our lives. You put in a huge effort during your school year and earned all the ease that summer affords. That long-awaited Elysian season must be savored. All of this prancing about that I recommend does come with a weighty caveat, however.

This part might bug you, and you may not agree, but I have to say it: Summer days can stretch the very meaning of the word boring. The amount of free time can be overwhelming. While summer is a great time to relax, it’s not a time to shut off. With sixteen waking hours a day, you can doze and daze an awful lot and still sneak in tons of accomplishments before you know it. Check my math here: Spend one hour a day studying for the SAT or ACT--one hour ranks as 15% of the normal school day--and that adds up to seven hours of studying each week. Over a summer of nine weeks, that gives you over 60 hours of studying. It’s almost impossible to do poorly on a test after you've studied 60 hours for it.

Make a plan, sure, but also make a habit. Say for every movie, one section of your test prep book. If you never make plans to hang out with your friends, you’ll wind up playing Grand Theft Auto all by yourself. If you make no plans to study, you’ll wind up with undesirable scores. If you also have a summer job or internship, studying for a standardized test may take second priority. And that’s fine. But if you have the time, you have no excuse. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy summer. Enjoy sneaking up on better scores.

Carpe Diem,
Jillian

Join us for the second half of our summer test-prep roundtable next week for more wisdom and advice from Book&Table's pro tutors.

Happy Learning,
Book&Table