Doctor Who Created Student Study Tool Prescribes Some Timely Advice

How educators can keep high schoolers’ college momentum going during current times.

High schoolers have faced obstacle after obstacle due to COVID-19. Some 20% of students didn’t plan to attend college come fall semester. Dr. Chandra Pemmasani (pictured) believes students will be better served keeping their “educational momentum” going. For students actively engaged in preparing for high-stakes exams such as the AP®, ACT®, or SAT®, time, space, and focus are essential.

Pemmasani is the founder and CEO of UWorld, which creates and delivers online learning tools for students preparing for high-stakes exams in a wide range of disciplines, including medicine, law, accounting, and finance. He founded UWorld during his medical residency in response to his personal disappointment with the tools that were available to help him prepare for the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). A company that started in a college dorm has evolved to help millions of students on their high-stakes exams.

‘Parents should educate their children that, as human evolution has shown, these difficult times will pass…’

In fact, according to Pemmasani, the USMLE mean and median scores have increased so much from the time the company started in 2003 that the testing board has increased the score it takes to pass.

In this interview, Pemmasani talks about how educators, families, and students themselves can all work together to keep high school students engaged and keep their college dreams alive during this time of unprecedented disruption in education.

What challenges are high school students facing in the college preparation process? 

Pemmasani: On top of the lack of stability, structure, and the battle against learning loss that has accompanied the quick implementation of distance and hybrid learning, high schoolers are also faced with a seemingly foggy path toward college. Students are trying to study for their AP exams, prepare for their ACT and SAT exams, and craft impressive college admission essays—but in-person guidance from school counselors might be scarce or not be what they would have in a normal setting.

What are a few tactics educators can use to help students successfully prepare for their AP and ACT or SAT exams during learning in these times?

Educators should be checking in on their high schoolers. They should be asking students about their plans and offering virtual office hour sessions to those who need some guidance and coaching. To help students achieve their target score on their ACT or SAT, educators can encourage an active learning form of studying. Rather than using passive learning strategies such as hopping on YouTube to watch a video or studying out of a book, students should be actively practicing with challenging questions that cover the concepts tested on their exams. The products should be engaging and explain the key concepts in a manner that is easy to understand without much additional outside help. Providing active learning online tools such as UWorld promotes true learning and mastery versus memorization. Plus, using online learning tools makes quality preparation accessible from home.

How can students take control of the process of preparing for college entrance exams?

I’d advise students to build their own structure by making a study plan. Take note of how much time you have until your exams, assess your weak spots, and plan to study for a certain amount of time per week, no matter what. Some students wait until a few days before the exam and try to cram, which is less efficient. Be as hands-on as you can by answering practice questions that mirror the real exam. Document the answers you got wrong and learn from them, track your progress, and celebrate your small wins.

‘Document the answers you got wrong and learn from them, track your progress, and celebrate your small wins.’

What is the role of parents in helping students prepare for college, especially during these times?

Families are more important than ever at every level of education right now. If I had college-age children who could attend college during this time in a safe way, I’d encourage them to stay on their path to begin that next phase of their education. There are reasons for high schoolers to be discouraged about going to college, but on the flip side, they have most likely already adapted to online learning to some degree, and it’s so important to keep learning momentum going while the structure of academic life comes naturally. Parents should educate their children that, as human evolution has shown, these difficult times will pass and a college education will become more important than ever as we move into a knowledge economy. Something as simple as drawing up a list of pros and cons can bring enormous clarity.

Any other thoughts to share?

Families can offer or help students find a quiet space to study, a reliable internet connection, and a clear and achievable plan to prepare for their exams. Exam-taking is a stressful situation for everyone, whether a parent or a student. Being more compassionate with each other also reduces stress. Rarely does anybody enjoy taking exams, and the pressure only increases with high-stakes tests, so providing some perspective coupled with understanding that the difficult time will pass is beneficial.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]

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