Cognitive Offloading is the Most Important Test Tip You Didn’t Know Existed

Forgive me, dear reader, for this incredibly gimmicky-sounding title, but understanding cognitive offloading will improve your life — and subsequently, your test taking ability. Before I drown you in psychology jargon, I ask this:

Do you know that satisfying feeling when you write out a to-do list? The way your thoughts flow more clearly once you start typing or writing them? Have you ever asked someone (or set your phone alarm) to remind you about something later so you don’t have to hold mental space for it?

These are all everyday examples of cognitive offloading. In short, your brain can only juggle so many things at once — whether it’s keeping information in the background (like remembering something you need to do later) or actively handling a complex task (like planning out an argument for a paper).

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Cognitive offloading is anything you do to reduce the cognitive demands of a task: basically, to make it take up less mental space. You can then use that extra mental space to live your daily life less burdened by background stressors and focus on the task at hand, or to engage more deeply with a cognitively demanding task.

A favorite example: if all of your thoughts seem to be spinning around in your head with no clear way to corral them, offloading the responsibility of memory and organization from your abstract headspace onto a concrete piece of paper (or computer screen, if you must) makes things much easier to process.

My unsolicited life advice to you is to buy a journal and use it! This can be especially helpful if you are reading this as someone engaged in the test prep process yourself, in an incredibly formative stage of life rife with excitement, confusion, and anxieties. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I’m not entirely sure when, if ever, that stage ends.

I understand you may have many questions — What does this have to do with test taking? Why is a 23-year-old giving me life advice? Why is the sun setting at 4pm in New York? I promise it’s all related and important somehow.

The good news is it’s fairly simple to apply this concept wherever your test-taking needs carry you. Every test — especially if it has a time limit — is a mind game and cognitive offloading should be a part of your psychological toolkit. Hopefully you’ve already heard or practiced these strategies and can now more fully contextualize them.

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In a test-taking context, cognitive offloading can accomplish two main goals: making challenging tasks easier and minimizing the cognitive demand of simple tasks.

The first is easy: write out your work, especially on math tests. If you don’t know how to get the answer, start writing what you know; if applicable, write the simplest equations you are confident in and integrate them on paper instead of in your head. Even the trickiest word problems can often be broken down into a few simple equations, but students get stuck trying to synthesize all of the information into the most comprehensive equation possible before putting pencil to paper. Psychologically speaking, writing more will actually make it easier for you to think

As for the second, the simple task of watching your timing can become incredibly cognitively draining, especially when there’s test anxiety involved. While mitigating test anxiety is a much longer and more complex process, offloading thoughts about time onto a watch is the simplest thing you can do. Any watch with a (silent!) stopwatch or timer will do, but if you’re an LP student you should have our watch, which is pre-programmed with timers for each section of the ACT or SAT. Trusting that the watch is keeping time, only a glance at your wrist away, allows you to release much of the pressure to be thinking about pace as you’re also trying to remember how to calculate arc length or wade your way through a fiction passage. It seems simple, but my students always report feeling less anxious about timing after practicing with their watch — and this lessened anxiety translates to better overall performance on the test.

If this topic is of interest to you, I’d recommend reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, or simply becoming more mindful of the ways in which you already use, and may further integrate, cognitive offloading in your everyday life. Alternatively, track me down at the LP office and I’m happy to ramble about psychology in person.

Solving the Mysteries of Subject Tests

The SAT Subject Tests have been produced by the College Board since 1937, though over the years they have gone by several different names and seen several redesigns of the tests. As the tests themselves have changed, so have the ways in which schools use them in the admissions process. In the current landscape, many colleges have shifted from requiring Subject Tests for admission to either recommending them or considering them. Even as this shift occurs, it is important for students and parents to understand how Subject Tests can work to their advantage in the admissions process.

For highly achieving students in school, the Subject Tests offer an opportunity to show a more specialized level of knowledge than either the general SAT or ACT would. Though many schools have removed the requirement of Subject Test scores because of the financial burden they place on lower-income students, many of these same schools still recommend or consider these tests, meaning they can help boost your profile for admission or help you earn merit-based scholarships from the school. For certain test-optional schools, Subject Tests may actually be submitted in place of an SAT or ACT score on the application. Most schools that consider the Subject Tests will ask for scores from two subjects, and a full list of universities that use Subject Test scores can be found here.

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As students start to consider what colleges they may be interested in, it makes sense to start to develop a plan for how and when to tackle Subject Tests. As freshmen or sophomores, some students take their first AP classes, such as AP Biology or AP World History. As a freshman or sophomore taking AP classes, I would recommend exploring a practice Subject Test as you start to prepare for the AP in the spring. The May Subject Test date tends to coincide well with the AP testing dates, so if you are feeling strong in your AP classes, you could get a head start on these exams. However, the vast majority of students who take these tests will do so in their junior year, while some will even wait until senior year.

For juniors who are interested in schools that consider Subject Tests, there are a few possible paths for getting them done. Though most students will simply wait until the May and June Subject Test dates because they line up with the AP testing dates, this can create an overwhelming spring workload for students who are in multiple AP classes and taking multiple Subject Tests. Though waiting for the spring dates makes the most sense for the Subject Tests that relate to specific class material, the Math and Literature Subject Tests are not directly tied to a curriculum. For students looking to alleviate some of the anxiety of spring, tackling these Subject Tests in October, November, or December of junior year can be a great way to get ahead. For students who may not have realized they needed or wanted Subject Tests until later in the process, taking them in May or June of junior year may not be an option since the focus may still be on the ACT or SAT. In this case, the Math and Literature Subject Tests offer a great alternative, as you can take the summer between junior and senior year to prepare for them. Like with the SAT or ACT, the Subject Tests are highly predictable in their content, so the best way to tackle them is to start thinking about your planned schedule early and to give yourself plenty of time to study and prepare.

2019 Goal: Read More

Even though January 1st has passed, there’s still time to add “read more” to your New Year Resolutions list. Believe it or not, reading is important for more reasons than just succeeding in school (although that’s a pretty important reason!).

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A 2009 study performed at the University of Sussex by Dr. David Lewis found that reading can reduce your stress levels by up to 68%! This is a higher percentage than other commonly prescribed stress relievers such as listening to music or talking a walk. When your body is under stress, you may be unable to focus, have trouble sleeping, or notice that you get sick a lot more than usual. Managing stress is important for you to remain healthy and happy all year round!

“It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination” - Dr. David Lewis

So as the weather begins to worsen and the spring ACT and SAT test dates get closer, try managing your stress by reading for a few minutes each day. If you need some reading suggestions, check out the LP library, which is filled with books recommended by your favorite instructors! Or be sure to check out January’s book of the month: Sirens of Titans by Kurt Vonnegut.

New Year, New Team Members!

Introducing LogicPrep’s newest team members!

Amy, COO

With over 20 years of experience in the education industry, Amy is a relentless champion of business optimization with extensive experience leading teams.

She is passionately devoted to the development of high-functioning organizations; not only mentoring employees, but also teaching them to mentor each other. At The Princeton Review she created a team of Tutoring Managers across the country that was a hive of objective-focused activity, with constant exchanges of information and expertise.

Amy brings her data-driven, motivational leadership style to LogicPrep, where she is committed to empowering every member of the team to deliver the best service and outcomes to each student and family.

Amy enjoys biking around NYC, cheering passionately for sports teams to which she has no allegiance, and seeking out the best oyster bars.


Matthew B, Instructor

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Matthew graduated from Princeton University with a BA in philosophy and went on to complete an MFA in poetry at New York University. In addition to instructing his students at LogicPrep, Matthew works as a Teaching Artist at Teachers & Writers Collaborative, introducing children around New York City to poetry and creative writing. He lives in Morningside Heights with his cat, Opal.

LogicPrep Recognized as One of the "Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America" Once Again

LOGICPREP EARNS A SPOT ON ENTREPRENEUR 360'S LIST OF "BEST ENTREPRENEURIAL COMPANIES IN AMERICA" FOR THE THIRD YEAR IN A ROW! 

Thanks for making LogicPrep the wonderful community that it is.

When New Chapters Come with New Challenges

The first semester of college is exciting—a new beginning in your life, a new chapter in your story, a new learning environment that promises to be a great fit!

Murilo poses on campus at Duke while visiting an LP Alum

Murilo poses on campus at Duke while visiting an LP Alum

And yet... college students now seek support for emotional and mental health issues in greater numbers than ever before. Since 2009, when anxiety surpassed depression as the leading mental health issue facing college students, the number of students experiencing anxiety has continued to increase each year. It is not clear whether the transition to college itself is a root cause of anxiety or whether college is the first opportunity for some students to access appropriate services or request an intervention.

College students reported causes of anxiety ranging from the challenges associated with managing competing commitments (new classes, clubs, sports, dorm life, Greek life, and other new social opportunities), the challenges associated with managing technology (addiction), homesickness, and the fear of not doing well (or well enough, especially after having worked so hard to get in) or of not getting a job after college.

Even at the secondary level, school administrators report concern about the mental health of students and an increased need for funding to meet these needs. In last year’s survey of school superintendents, for example, the New York State Council of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS) reported a 17% increase in the percentage of superintendents identifying increasing mental-health related services for students as a top funding priority (from 35% to 52%). Across multiple questions related to financial matters, 45% of superintendents responded that the capacity to help students with non-academic needs (including health and mental health) is a significant problem, and when asked to rank three top priorities, should funding beyond what would be needed to maintain current services and meet mandates become available, increasing mental health services emerged as the top priority among superintendents statewide. 

There is a consistent link and a positive correlation between student’s social and emotional well-being and mental health and their school success and academic achievement. Students who achieve academically at a high level are more likely to engage in healthy physical activity on a regular basis, more likely to get healthy sleep, and less likely to engage in risk behaviors and vice versa.

With the shortest day of the year on the immediate horizon, winter break provides students the opportunity not only to sleep in, but to recharge and reflect on the transition to college with their families. Talk with your first-year student (or sophomore or junior) about what’s working well, how to foster healthy relationships and routines, whether he or she feels supported appropriately on campus, and how to grow academically each new day as the days begin once again to lengthen towards spring.

At LogicPrep, we’re committed to supporting students throughout their entire journey - and that extends through college. Interested in learning some new organizational techniques or chatting about time management? Looking for support in Into to Calc or Econ or Psych? Our team is - and remains - here for you every step of the way.

LogicPrep in Forbes: What Standardized Testing Can Teach Us About Problem Solving In Business And Life

As the founder and CEO of an educational consulting firm, when Lindsay tells people about what she does, she usually gets one of the following responses:

a) Did you know I got a perfect 800 on my SAT/36 on my ACT? (Fill in the blank with some crazy impressive test score.)

b) College tests are the worst. I’m so glad I don’t have to ever look at the SAT or ACT again.

c) The SAT and ACT are pointless! I did terribly and look how successful I am now.

It’s no secret that the SAT and ACT tend to evoke strong emotional responses. What Lindsay has come to discover, though, is that these tests have more to teach us than we might realize, not just about math and reading but also problem-solving in business and in life.

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Read Lindsay’s latest feature in Forbes where she discussed her thoughts on what standardized testing can teach us about problem-solving beyond the classroom.

The Power of Elimination - Mastering Multiple Choice

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book -- but is a very powerful, underrated strategy!

“So, what can you eliminate?”

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My students will tell you that I must say this phrase at least 100 times each lesson, but there is a method to my madness. In almost every question on the ACT Math section, there is usually one answer that is completely out of left field. As soon as you see that answer, crossing it off immediately will ensure that you won’t accidentally choose it if it comes down to guessing. It will also help lead your brain to the right answer by narrowing your focus to the other answer choices. In the case of “plug and chug” questions, having to plug in 3 numbers versus 5 can save you precious seconds in the race against the clock.

Eliminating will not only help you increase your chances of selecting the correct answer, but it will exercise your intuition and confidence. Knowing the wrong answer can be just as useful as knowing the right one!

My Favorite (Free!) Website for ACT Reading Preparation

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Most of my students struggle with the ACT Reading section not because they can’t read, but because it is so difficult to manage the short time given. This is entirely understandable, the ACT is a unique experience that is hard to prepare for. Think about it this way, in the real world people normally don’t open up the New York Times and give themselves 5 minutes to read the top front page article. That would be just weird. Even if you wanted to do this, you wouldn't know how long the article should take you to read anyway. With every second counting, guessing an article should take you 6 minutes to read when it really should be 5 minutes can be quite costly.

This is why I love JSTOR’s, the world’s leading digital library of academic journals, daily (free!!!) blog based on the papers they publish.

Sourced and written by their own high-quality writers, the content is on par with what you may see in an ACT Reading section. Even better, they divide the website topically so you can practice the passage type (expect fiction) that gives you the most trouble. Best of all, each article is listed with a reading time so you can time yourself even if don’t have time for a full section. Perfect for when you just have 5 minutes to practice.

JSTOR’s blog is the best free website out there to help you prepare for reading the ACT’s deep academic content under time pressure.

You can find the link here: https://daily.jstor.org/   

Good luck and enjoy!

The Other Half of the Test, and How to Master It

We all know there is a lot of material to learn on the path to mastering the SAT or ACT – formulas, grammar rules, reading strategies. But there is another skill to master: the mind game.

During the nearly four-hour test, pacing, endurance, and fatigue become huge factors in our mental performance. These hurdles make up the mind game: the psychological prowess needed in partnership with the material to maintain rigorous concentration during the test’s unique conditions. Rather than being learned in a lesson, these skills come from building the muscle of focus. And like any muscle, it needs to be trained. 

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Training is not something that happens over night – at our second trip to the gym, we don’t run a marathon. Instead, we take active steps to train this muscle during our practice.

Practice. Interesting word, that. What do we know about practice?

We are taught that practice makes perfect. This is not true. An aspiring pitcher who practices by bowling the baseball probably isn’t going to be very successful, even if they practice all day every day.

The truth is: Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.

This means when we prepare for the test but do not exercise the mind game, we are making permanent the limited focus and energy we are bringing to our practice. That is why it is so important to push ourselves to improve focus during all of our SAT/ACT practice.

There are steps we can take to train our focus and improve our mind game when we study for the tests:

THE ENVIRONMENT

Just like test day, your practice space needs to be distraction free. Find a quiet space, preferably with as few people around as possible. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. If kid brother is always practicing his air guitar and mom always has an endless number of phone calls, tell your family “Hey, I’m going to be studying for the SAT/ACT at 7 tonight, can I have an hour of quiet-time in the house?”

Most importantly, put your phone away. In another room, preferably. Practicing with it buzzing at the other end of the table is going to make permanent that little voice in your head wondering what your friends are texting you. It won’t be there on test day, so get it outta there.

Or better yet, head to LogicPrep anytime, and we’ll set you up in a distraction-free study space or an empty room. We’ll even hold your cell phone behind the front desk for you.

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THE BODY

Given the intensity of high school, it is understandable that sometimes SAT/ACT homework happens later at night than we might want. But attempting these endurance-based tests when we’re losing our energy to stay focused is bad practice, and builds bad mental habits. If you feel yourself losing steam, it might be best to call it a night and start up again in the morning.

Hunger can be just as distracting as tiredness. Stock up on brain foods to snack on before you begin your SAT/ACT practice, like nuts or berries. Just like with our phones, we do not want to make permanent the state of distraction that an empty stomach brings.

THE MIND

You know the feeling when you’ve read the same paragraph for the third time but still can’t remember what it is about? That’s your mind’s signal telling you that your focus is temporarily low and needs a little reset. There’s no use reading it a fourth time – we don’t want to make that mental state permanent. Instead, take a micro break. Try moving your body: walk up and down the stairs or do ten jumping jacks. Use this moment to wipe your slate clean and return to the question at hand as if it’s the first question you’re working on today. Slowly, our mental muscles improve, and we can reset and focus by simply taking a deep breath. But until then, note when your mind is drifting, and take active, physical steps to correct it.

In order to build the mental muscles required for staying focused during these large tests, it is important that you study in test conditions. Remember, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.