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college readiness

Summertime Studytime

Math and English Review

by Joan Reissman, MCAS Maven


The weather is finally nice. You’re sick of school. Going to the beach and hanging out with friends seems like a great idea. After ten months of stuffy classrooms, the last thing you want to think about is next school year. I hear you! You can have fun! But, if you use just a little of your precious summer time to do some studying, you will hit the ground running in September (or August). A little preparation over the summer can really pay off when you head back to class in the fall.

The biggest challenge is for incoming freshmen, since they are moving from middle school to high school. If you’re in that category you may want to choose just one subject to review so as to leave maximum time for other summer activities. The most important are English and math, but some rising freshmen may also want to review social studies or science. What gave you the most trouble? Where did you get the lowest grade? That’s probably the most important subject for summer review. Even if you did well in all your classes, it’s still a good idea to keep your mind somewhat engaged over the summer. Experts disagree on how much learning is lost over the summer. Some studies say that learning loss is significant, especially in math. Others say summer learning loss is not significant. But while the experts debate, why take a chance on coming up rusty in September? It’s not their GPA on the line—it’s yours.


Let’s look at some resources for math, always the biggest problem for the most students. What should you review? That will depend on the math course you’ll be taking next year. There are two high school math models, traditional and integrated. If the school you’re going to uses the traditional model, then you will take a sequence of Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2. In the integrated model, you will study a mix of domains in number and quantity, algebra, geometry, and probability and statistics. The integrated model is similar to the mixed topic structure you’ve had in math since kindergarten. The traditional model has a sharper focus: it separates algebra and geometry in successive years.

If your high school uses the traditional model, you should review the algebra you learned in 8th grade (if you’re a rising freshman) while rising sophomores should review 9th grade algebra and the geometry concepts they learned in 8th grade (congruence, similarity, Pythagorean theorem and volume). If you’re in the integrated model, future freshman and sophomores both should review topics in number and quantity, algebra, geometry, and probability and statistics from the previous year.

There are many good free resources for math that are easy to use. Think about your learning style or try different options to see what works best for you. Do you like video games? There are many games that will help build your math skills. Some games focus on middle school standards, but they will help you review topics you will be studying at a higher level in high school. Consider finding a study pal. Having a study pal can be a great way to review math topics together and make it fun. Even if the game doesn’t allow for multiple players, you can still compare your scores. You can choose games by grade or topic. One of the best resources is MathPlay. This site concentrates on middle school topics but the games are educational and entertaining. Mathplay has games that can be played solo or with a group. Hooda math is another good game site. Some students prefer less flashy games. One site with basic games is MathGames. Although these games look basic, they are a good way to practice skills without distractions. You can also get more high school practice on XPMath. For more challenging games on a higher level, try LearnAlberta.

If you want more structured study, there are good resources that can help you review an entire year of math. Khan Academy is always a reliable source. This website will work well for you if you like a short lecture on a topic before doing any exercises. You can just do the quizzes, but you can switch to the lesson page any time you want more explanation on a topic. You can study 8th grade math, Algebra 1, or Integrated Math. This free program is also available as an app on your phone.


Another good program you can use on your phone or computer is CK12. CK12 provides math instruction from 1st grade to calculus. You can choose concepts in any math course. For example, if you choose Algebra, you can click on any concept. After you choose the topic, a variety of activities will pop up. You can choose how you want to learn. There are short textbook passages with examples, Khan academy videos, adaptive practice exercises, real world applications of the concept and interactive activities. CK12 also has Flex textbooks in math and science. The Flexbooks are online textbooks with interactive features. You might find Flexbooks useful to review an entire curriculum with interactive features. Teachers can use CK12 to assign activities to an individual or an entire class.

EdReady is another user-friendly structured resource. Future freshmen and sophomores can work on Review Middle or High School Math Algebra 1 or College Readiness. Whichever path you choose will start with a diagnostic test and then the software will give you a study path based on the diagnostic results. You can choose the “learn” option on any topic if you want to review, or you can test on the topic to see if you might be able to skip it.

When reviewing on their own, students often find themselves getting stuck on a problem. You should always try to solve the problem yourself, but sometimes you just can’t see why you’re not getting the correct answer. If you have a friend who is good at math, you could ask for help. If you don’t have that resource there are apps that can help you. With these apps, you take a picture of the problem with your phone, submit it, and you receive a detailed explanation of the problem with answers. The most popular is Photomath but you can also get homework help from Socratic and Mathway. Don’t rely on these apps too much or you won’t learn as much. Try to figure it out on your own first.


Maybe you’re really good in math and you don’t need to review. English might be the subject that’s difficult for you. First, think about what has been the most difficult in your English classes. The three main areas are vocabulary, writing (which includes grammar and essay writing) and reading comprehension. You should concentrate on the area that you find difficult.


Anyone can benefit from studying vocabulary. Even if you have a good vocabulary, there’s always room for improvement. Adding words to your vocabulary will improve your essay writing, and you will be building your vocabulary for standardized tests. Rising sophomores will be taking the MCAS and PSAT next year. Even though there are not many vocabulary questions on the MCAS, you might still have trouble answering questions if you are unfamiliar with words in the passages. On the PSAT, you will have vocabulary in context questions, so you should start preparing for that. Learn at least one new word per day and use it in a sentence. Create a vocabulary document on your phone (or computer, laptop or tablet) so you can record and review all the words you have learned. You can also review words on a flashcard or vocabulary builder app on your phone. There are many free and inexpensive apps. Word of the Day is a good one (available for Apple and Android). There are several apps with this title, but a good one is by Biggiko 000. You will receive a word every day to learn and you can review words from a previous day. Three good flashcard apps are Flashcards by Chegg, Quizlet, and Study Blue. In Flashcards by Chegg, you can create your own decks or use decks created by other students. All these apps have useful features to improve your vocabulary.

For help finding words, rising freshmen should go to 100 Words a High School Freshman Should Know. Rising sophomores should go to and search the vocabulary lists for sophomores, MCAS or PSAT. If you start today, you can add 49 new words to your vocabulary by Labor Day.


Vocabulary is always useful, but so is writing. You can concentrate on essay writing or grammar. An easy way to practice essay writing is to pick any article online and try to write something about it. You might want to choose a current event, or an article about a musician you think is important and explain his/her influence on other musicians and society. Rising sophomores will have to write essays on the 10th grade MCAS, so they should work on writing about both fiction and non-fiction. Another way to practice writing is to analyze a music video. Many music videos have rich imagery, themes and social messages that you can explore. For guidance through structured exercises try NoRedInk. This free program helps you polish the structural components of a standard essay.


To improve your writing, you need to improve your grammar. You can use NoRedInk for grammar. This program has many grammar exercises. Another good free program comes from the Oxford University Press and offers practice exercises in grammar and writing. It’s good for word usage that incorporates grammatical principles. Another good free resource is Perfect-English-Grammar. This program has short explanations and practice exercises on many grammar topics. It emphasizes verbs, so it might be good for an advanced ESL student. Finally, a simple way to see your grammar mistakes is to write something and put the text in a grammar checker. You can use Grammarly, Ginger, GrammarCheck or Scribens.


You should also keep up on reading over the summer. There’s a reason schools give you summer reading lists. Reading keeps your mind active. For rising sophomores, it’s particularly important to keep reading because you will be taking important standardized tests in 10th grade. To do your best on MCAS and PSAT, you need sharp reading skills. Try to read a variety of fiction and non-fiction books. Look up any words you don’t understand and add them to your vocabulary document or virtual flash cards. Be an active reader. Test yourself by trying to summarize the major points of the text. What are the main ideas and themes? What do you think about the characters? Write a short essay about the book– that will force you to be an active reader.


Do you struggle with poetry? Reading a poem every day will help you become more comfortable with poems. Sign up on Poets and you will receive a poem every day on your device. You can also find interactive poetry lessons on PBS Learning Media.

PBS is another great resource for studying English. Once on the home page you can search for English lessons by grade or discipline. Then you can choose from many lessons that cover fiction, non-fiction, reading techniques, writing and grammar. There aren’t many good free programs to improve reading comprehension, but one good one is Read Theory. You will take a pretest and then the software will give you passages and questions. You can also get English practice on the previously described websites Khan Academy and EdReady.


All of this information may seem overwhelming, but you don’t have to tackle all these topics. You do want to have some fun this summer. Even if you’re busy with friends and a job, carve out time to hone your skills. With a little studying, you’ll be fresh and ready to dive right into classes in September. If you practice a little bit every day, or even three days a week, you’ll really sharpen your skills over the summer. You won’t regret the time spent. You’ll be way ahead of students who spent all their time at the beach or hanging out. So get on your phone or computer and study!

But don’t forget to have some fun too.

Joan Reissman, the MCAS Maven, has been advising students on learning strategies since 2000.

What is College Readiness? Are You Ready?

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

It goes beyond quantitative data points

Measuring “college readiness” is quite the conundrum. Some say it is about test scores, class rank, SAT and GPA. But I think it goes beyond those quantitative data points. While they are all important indicators of skill, there are other measures that cannot be captured in scores but are inherent in “readiness.” These qualities or capacities include executive function, time management in general, prioritizing work and planning for due dates.

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MCAS 2.0 - 10th Grade Math-Student Prep Pt2

Helping Students Prepare, Part 2

By Joan Reissman, MCAS Maven

Last month I discussed preparing students for the new MCAS 2.0 ELA. In this post I want to offer some suggestions for the mathematics test, coming right up on May 21. As with ELA, the biggest difference is that the test will no longer be paper-based, it will be online. As a student, a teacher or a parent, your first job is to make sure that students get familiar with the mechanics of the online test.

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Meet the new MCAS with confidence and success

by Eileen Wedegartner, Blended Learning Specialist

I started teaching in 1998. My first year I filled in for a teacher in a Boston exurb. The school was my alma mater, so English department staff took me under their wings to help me do the best one could hope for a first-year teacher. They gave me lesson plans, coached me on practice and helped me develop some good curriculum. By all measures, I had a great year in my first year of teaching.

New twists and how not to get tangled up

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

There has been a lot of discussion about the new MCAS 2.0 test. Parents and teachers are wondering how they can help students build the skills they need to succeed. The biggest difference is that the test will no longer be on paper. It’s online. Although students use technology every day, that doesn’t mean they will automatically know how to navigate the test. The first step in preparation is to make sure that students understand how to navigate through the test and answer all questions.

Minding the Gap… GAP Year that is

Should you take a year off after high school?

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

If you’re a senior, you are probably thinking about college. The traditional pattern has been to attend college right after high school, but many students now are taking a year off before enrolling in college. The so-called “gap year” got a lot of attention when Malia Obama decided to wait a year before attending Harvard. Her decision attracted both praise and criticism. Was it a good decision? Let’s examine the gap year option.

Is access to literacy a constitutional right?

Of Literacy and Democracy

Is access to literacy a constitutional right?

by Eileen Wedegartner

On July 5, 2018, Thomas Birmingham and William Weld co-authored an opinion piece in the Boston Globe titled, “Mass. has to return to its high standards for education.” The former governor and senate president re-visited the 1993 Education Reform Act on its 25th anniversary, praising its successes and making an argument to raise the ante and not relax the push for high standards that has brought Massachusetts success in education.

From Ethiopia to Architecture: My Journey - Selamawit Balcha's Journey

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

One Student’s Brave Journey

As a Blended Learning Specialist with JFYNetWorks, I have met many students. It’s the best part of my job– meeting people and helping them succeed. I enjoy working with all students, but some naturally stand out. Selamawit Balcha is one of those stand-outs. She was in one of my classes at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2014 and I was immediately impressed by her determination and focus. I knew she would be successful. She is now working towards her architecture degree at Wentworth Institute of Technology. I asked her to share her story and she responded with the following account.

Solving the state’s math problem: do the math

by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist

Math has been in the news lately. The Globe ran a story on college remediation December 28 (“State colleges trying to solve math problem”) that said only 60% of community college students who have to take remedial math (also called “review” and “developmental”) complete the courses and only one-third of those completers go on to finish a regular degree-credit math course. The article did not say how many of these students ever graduate. Nor did it say that the remedial math population amounts to 47% of recent high school graduates enrolling in community college—more than 4000 students every year.

Road less traveled...leads to college success

One Student’s Journey

by Joan Reissman, Blended Learning Specialist

Today’s high school students are told constantly that they are on a long journey from school to college to career. They are urged to build their skills in order to succeed in a demanding job market. But for many, the transition to college is not mapped clearly enough. They enroll, but then find that their road to graduation is longer and more winding than expected. They discover that college acceptance does not guarantee enrollment in credit-bearing courses that lead to a degree. The road can detour through remedial courses that cost money and take time but do not count toward a degree. This is the story of one student who straightened out her college journey by taking a road less traveled by.