Back-to-School Goals

Check out these first semester goals for 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade.

By Andrew W.

I always loathed back-to-school shopping. The week before Labor Day each year, my siblings and I would trudge towards a nearby Staples as my mother prodded us onward like a cowboy herding cattle across the Great Plains. It was a painful reminder that summer, with its infinite freedom and thrilling adventures, was ending. School loomed in the distance, flashing a toothy sneer that promised a return to the academic stress we had so happily rejected three months earlier.

For better or worse, Time’s unstoppable march has brought us to that point once again. And while school can certainly be demanding, good planning can make all the difference between a workload that feels unmanageable and one that, while intense, is conquerable. Therefore, this post seeks to give you some first-semester goals to guide you as you begin your academic year.

There are thousands of films, novels, and television shows that portray senior year as a time of unparalleled freedom and virtually no responsibilities. Unfortunately, that myth is far from true. Senior year will likely be your most challenging year — because of the tumultuous mixture of college applications and challenging courses — but it’s also the most exciting. Here are a few tips for the soon-to-be campus leaders:

College will probably be the foremost item on your agenda. You’ll need to make some important decisions before first semester ends:

  • Whittle down a list of colleges. Plan to visit a few colleges that you’re interested in but never got around to. Knowing where you intend to apply will let you effectively plan out your applications.
  • Consider retaking the SAT or ACT. If you’re not satisfied with your scores, you might want to sit for the September or October exams, especially if you’re thinking about applying early.
  • Speaking of applying early, decide whether or not you’d like to apply early.
  • Finish your college applications. Most applications will be due on January 1st, so they’ll take up a substantial portion of your attention during the first semester. For a more comprehensive overview of what you’ll have to do, consider reading this blog.

But don’t let college consume the entirety of your senior year.

  • Think about your senior year courses. Contrary to rumor, first semester courses matter! Senioritis is real. Succeeding in challenging classes in areas that truly interest you can highlight your intellectual potential and demonstrate the caliber of student you’ll be in college.
  • Lead some clubs. If you’ve been passionate about an activity during your high school tenure, consider taking on a leadership role. As a senior, you’re considered to have mastered the art of secondary education; as cheesy as it sounds, you’re a role model and guide for younger students. Having a leadership position will let you help some underclassmen and underclasswomen, while giving you some enjoyment in an otherwise stressful schedule.
  • Have fun! Senior year is full of “lasts:” your last chemistry lab, your last cafeteria hot dog, and your last dive into the poignant abscesses of gym locker rooms. That club you’ve always been meaning to join, or class you’ve always been meaning to take? Do it.
  • Be sure to cherish your friends, mentors, and family during this special time. Expect some tearful goodbyes.

Just as with seniors, there are thousands of stories that compare junior year to a unique kind of struggle reserved only for the heroes and heroines of ancient mythology. While junior year is certainly stressful, there’s plenty you can do to effectively balance your responsibilities:

  • Craft a study plan for your standardized exams. Studying for the SAT or ACT is similar to forming diamonds: it requires sustained effort over a long period of time. And if you’re considering sitting for spring or winter exams, that preparation should begin now. You should begin by taking a practice test in both exams, researching their differences, and then planning out your semester so you can spend an appropriate — but not cumbersome — amount of time studying.
  • Carve out some time for yourself. Junior year is undeniably stressful, so be sure to set aside some time in your schedule to relax. Whether that relaxation comes from clubs, friends, or reading, it’s all important — you’ll have a more enjoyable year if you’re balanced.
  • Keep your head high. Persevere in the face of challenge and uncertainty. If you find yourself struggling, seek out support systems: whether they’re your friends, your teachers, or your parents. Be proactive with your academic and social commitments, and be sure to have some fun along the way.

“Sophomore” is Greek for “clever fool.” With one year under your belt, it might be easy to forget the three more years of maturation that lie ahead. While you’re not experts just yet, sophomore year is a wonderful time devoted to exploration. Live it un-Apollo-getically.

  • Try something new! Join a new club. Try out for the musical, even if you think you’re tone-deaf. Sophomore year is the sweet spot of academia: you’ve completed your transition to high school, and you don’t have the responsibilities of upperclassmen quite yet. Therefore, you should spend sophomore year figuring out what you really enjoy. So try something new. You might discover a life-long passion.
  • Continue your academic success. Hopefully, you ingrained some successful study habits during your freshman year, which you should continue during your sophomore year. If you’re still struggling, don’t worry! Take advantage of this year to finalize your academic routine.

Welcome to campus! Unfortunately, it’s nothing like High School Musical. No one breaks out into choreographed musical numbers in the cafeteria. Weird, right?

  • Get acclimated! Many freshmen unfortunately view high school as a mere stepping-stone to college. It’s not. High school is a period of unprecedented growth, and you should cherish that maturation. Take this time to get adjusted to more challenging academics, a new social scene, and increased responsibilities.
  • Join two clubs. One major difference between high school and middle (or junior high) school is the importance of extracurriculars. In high school, extracurriculars are more serious, and they’re a major part of the social scene. Therefore, you should seek out clubs that align to your interests — because you’ll likely find like-minded people there. Don’t over-commit, but certainly don’t under-commit, either. And if you’re concerned about extracurricular activities eclipsing your academic success, don’t be! Students who are heavily involved tend to be very successful, because they’re forced to learn effective time-management skills to balance their schedules.

So, how should you spend your first semester?

It all depends on where you are in your high school journey. Mapping out a productive first semester is essential to balancing your academic, social, and extracurricular commitments. With these goals, you’ll hopefully have a more balanced school year. But above all, don’t forget to have some fun.


Curvebreakers’ ​ Student of the Month​ series features students who go above and beyond to achieve outstanding results. They take full advantage of everything Curvebreakers has to offer by improving their scores, being accepted to top schools, or receiving exceptional scholarships. We recognize them to inspire all Curvebreakers students to reach for their dreams! Our Student of the Month for ​ September 2018​ is ​Afia H.,​ who received excellent scores on both the SAT and the ACT. Nice job, Afia!

CURVEBREAKERS:​ When you signed up for tutoring, what did you think the sessions were going to be like?
AFIA:​ When I had first signed up for tutoring, I had an idea of what the sessions would be like since my cousin had also attended Curvebreakers. I knew that every session was supposed to be focused on a certain skill I was lacking and then continuous timed practice in order to ensure that the same mistake wouldn’t happen again. However, I underestimated the extent of how much practice SATs and ACTs I would be doing over time.

C:​ What was your score on your first SAT/ACT practice test?
A: ​ My first score on a practice SAT was a 1320, and my first score on my ACT was a 32.

C:​ How did you like your tutor?
A:​ My tutor was Nick LaPoma, who is also in charge of Curvebreakers. I liked my tutor a lot because not only was he able to be my teacher, but he was also somewhat of an acquaintance. He was able to push me to continue practicing, but also know when to give me a break and just let me take a breather. He would also talk to me about things I could relate to, so that I wouldn’t lose focus or ever get bored.

C: ​ What was your study schedule like when preparing for the official SAT/ACT?
A: ​ When I was preparing for the official SAT, I didn’t do an insane amount of practice SATs per week in the months leading to my test. However, I did try to do at least one timed practice a week and two in the month before my SAT. On the contrary, for my ACT I didn’t do any practice at all besides going to my sessions and the occasional timed section if I could. Most of my attention went towards my SAT because I knew it was the test I needed more help on.

C:​ What did you find most challenging when preparing and what did you do to overcome that obstacle?
A: ​ The most challenging obstacle I had faced was time, but not because I took too long, but because I would finish so ahead of the allowed time that I would begin to second guess and change my first choice answers. Although sporadically my second choice would be right, changing my answers more so hurt me than benefited me. In order to overcome this obstacle, I would try my best to take an extra step so that I could be as confident as possible with my answer. I would find the line in a passage where I got my answer for [the] reading sections, or do a math problem I had originally struggled on twice. I would also be sure to re-read questions in order to make sure I was answering properly and didn’t miss a keyword like “Which answer is NOT true?”

C:​ What was the best thing you did to prepare for the exam? What was most effective for you and what would you recommend to your fellow students if you could give them one piece of advice?
A: ​ The best thing I did to prepare for the exam was time myself during every practice, because it let me plan out what I should redo since I usually finished a lot earlier than the allotted time. Doing so helped reduce how many questions I got wrong in each section and it boosted my confidence to be able to really show that I made sure each of my answers had a reason I chose it.

C:​ How did your feelings change from when you took your actual SAT/ACT compared to when you first started?
A:​ When I first started practicing for my SAT, I was always worried about my first answer and never felt confident that I could be completely right. However, after I had so much practice and had started to [use] the skills that were meant to help me, I learned not to second guess myself as much and it ended up bringing my score up by a lot.

C:​ What was your final score on the SAT/ACT?
A:​My final score on the SAT was a 1510, and my final score on the ACT was a 35.

C:​ What was your favorite part about tutoring with Curvebreakers?
A:​ My favorite part about tutoring with Curvebreakers was how it was one on one because it allowed me to focus more on my personal struggles rather than go along with a group on something that may have been a lot easier for me. It also made sure I didn’t waste any time.


Curvebreakers’ ​Student of the Month​ series features students who go above and beyond to achieve outstanding results. They take full advantage of everything Curvebreakers has to offer by improving their scores, being accepted to top schools, or receiving exceptional scholarships. We recognize them to inspire all Curvebreakers students to reach for their dreams! Our Student of the Month for ​April 2018​ is ​Ryan H.,​ who brought his ACT score up 12 points. Incredible work, Ryan!

CURVEBREAKERS:​ What were your thoughts on the ACT before you took it the first time? RYAN: ​It was a bit of an overwhelming thing to see how long the test was and how many topics it covered, and how much of an impact it had on getting into college.

C:​ What was your score the first time you took the ACT?
R:​ My first practice test score was a 21.

C:​ What did you think immediately after the first time you ever took the ACT?
R:​ “Oh my gosh this is a lot harder than I thought it would be.” The time pressure on the ACT for the different sections was intimidating to get past.

C: ​When you signed up for tutoring, what did you think the sessions were going to be like?
R: ​I thought I would be taking a bunch of tests and go over the answers. I wasn’t expecting it to be as in-depth as it was.

C:​ How did you like your tutor?
R: ​He was awful! (Haha kidding) He was great! I learned tricks, short cuts to make those long questions simple, and he made the process so much easier and improved my score tremendously.

C:​ How did you prepare for the official ACT?
R: ​I was able to pick up patterns on the test from practice tests and have an internal “shot clock.” I learned how long to spend on a question and was able to get through the test a lot better.

C:​ What was your final score on the ACT?
R:​ A 33.

C:​ What was the best part about tutoring with Curvebreakers?
R:​ How individual it was. There wasn’t a blanket approach for each student. My issue was time management and we spent time on that, on how to keep myself running and not spend too much time on a specific question. I would also add that the tutors are invested in you, you are not just a “client” but a person that they care about.

Note from Nick LaPoma:​ Thank you Ryan for being an incredible example for other students that hard work truly does pay off. Your determination throughout this process was impressive to say the least and you deserve all the credit in the world. We wish you the very best in College and the future.

Celebrity SAT Scores

1. Bill Gates: It’s no question that the famous multi-billionaire creator of Microsoft is a pure genius and his SAT score certainly compliments that fact. Gates notched a 1590 on his SATs, 10 points away from a perfect score! I bet the person who devised the one question Bill Gates got wrong must feel pretty cool knowing he stumped one of the smartest men in the world.

2. Ke$ha: The pop singer famous for her hit songs like Animal, We R Who We R, C’mon and Tik Tok certainly didn’t have a time management issue when it came to taking her SATs. Ke$ha secured a very impressive score of a 1500 on her SAT. Although she may play the wild and fun blonde on stage, don’t be deceived — her smarts are crazy as well.

3. Peyton Manning: The future Hall of Famer is undoubtedly one of the smartest brains in football. The 5-time MVP was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of anything and everything football. However, when it came to his SATs, Peyton didn’t match his football expertise. Manning got a 1030 on his SATs. I think it’s safe to say that many NFL fans would still consider him a genius.

4. Howard Stern: The famous radio personality known for his controversial content and edgy opinions definitely has a ton of street smarts, but when it comes to the SAT’s, not so much. Stern only scored an 870 on his SATs. Many throughout the entertainment industry consider Stern to be one of the most savvy and intelligent people in the industry. I’m sure if you asked Howard Stern about his SAT score, he’d tell you everything worked out just fine.

5. Natalie Portman: Not everyone knows that this Oscar-winning actress, who made her film debut at the age of 12, graduated from the prestigious Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Despite her busy acting schedule, this Star Wars star is rumored to have earned an SAT score in the 1400s. Clearly Natalie is versatile in more than just her acting roles!


By: Chris Desimone, Test Prep Expert, Curvebreakers

How to Prepare Yourself for Exam Day

Testing season is almost here. If you’re planning on taking the ACT in February or the SAT in March, you should be well into your test prep by now (if you think you might be behind schedule, check out our post onwhen to start preparing for either test). Even if you’re on track for success now, how you handle those anxiety-filled days right before the exam can have a major effect on your score. You’ve put months into preparing for the ACT or SAT, so why would you want to throw away all that hard work the day before? Here are our pro-tips on how to put the finishing touch on your test prep so you can walk into the exam 100% ready.


1. Develop a plan for last-minute studying

Studies have shown that cramming right before a test doesn’t work. Instead, you should plan out a few time slots to study the day before the test and focus on those areas you struggle with the most. Planning to study for short periods throughout the day, say an hour at a time, can help improve your focus and, in turn, how well you retain the information. You can designate each time slot to a different area you feel less confident about. If you struggle with timing, try timing yourself on a few practice questions. You should be aware of the timing per question for each section of the test (we talk about this in our post on the5 Biggest Differences Between the SAT and ACT).


2. Set your mind and body up for success

This is one of the main reasons why cramming doesn’t work — your body needs rest! Staying up all night studying and only getting 4 hours of sleep before exam day is a great way to shoot yourself in the foot. 8 hours is the minimum recommended amount of sleep you should get the night before (and every night, if you can). Countless studies have shown that a good night’s rest can be beneficial to test-taking in more ways than one. The best thing you can do for yourself before the test, besides getting enough sleep, is to eat a nutritious meal (this means more than a Pop-Tart on your way out the door). It’s important to know your body so you don’t over or under eat, but aim for something high in protein like an omelet or yogurt. You can also bring a snack with you to eat during any testing breaks. Granola bars are a great option for staving off those midday hunger pains.


3. Know what to expect

First and foremost, you should know exactly what time you need to be there, NOT just what time the test starts. For example, the SAT begins between 8:30 and 9 am, but the doors close promptly at 8. So you might think arriving at 8:15 would be early but you’d actually be late! Knowing what to expect comes, in large part, from preparing for the test months in advance. Being familiar with the sections, question types, and timing are all keys to success. If you’ve never taken a practice test, you may want to rethink your strategy and put off taking the official exam for a few months. Taking practice tests with trackable, detail-driven results is a great way to improve your score and walk into the exam with confidence.


4. Make sure you have all the materials you need

You should also know what to bring with you (and what you should leave at home). Both the SAT and ACT provide helpful checklists on their websiteshere andhere. Both tests require you to bring a photo ID and leave electronic devices at home. Though you can bring a watch or a timer, you should plan ahead to make sure that it follows all rules (you obviously won’t be able to use the stopwatch on your iPhone). You are also required to bring sharpened No. 2 pencils (not mechanical or pens). I would recommend bringing more than the suggested two, just in case. Even if you think you’re the master of standardized test taking, make sure your pencils have good erasers — you could still make a mistake!


5. Go in with the right mindset

I know you’ve all heard this before, and I hate to be corny, but this really is the biggest part of testing and it can make or break a student’s score. Low self-esteem is something most of us struggle with at some point in our lives and we see it all the time with students who don’t believe they can get that high score. A 36 on the ACT may seem unattainable, but if you encourage yourself you may be surprised by what you can achieve! Regardless of how lofty your goals are, going in with a positive attitude will make the test feel like less of a drag (which we all know it definitely can be).

Taking the SAT or ACT can feel like one of the biggest moments of your life. This would make anyone anxious! Being prepared when you walk into the exam is the best way to reduce stress. I know not everyone is a Type A organization-lover, but I promise you that knowing you’ve covered all your bases will pay off in the long run. You shouldn’t spend the morning of the test worrying about whether or not you know where the testing center is or if your calculator will be allowed. If you get all of that out of the way beforehand, you’ll have the peace of mind necessary to bring home a top score.


By: Emily Sahli, Staff Writer, Curvebreakers