Kevin A Doty Tutors Inc.
Tutor * Teacher * Rocket Scientist


Thoughts On Learning

Tomorrow is a big day...

If you're taking the ACT, tomorrow is a big day.

Except that it’s also not.

Here’s what I need you to know - know in the deepest depth of your being.

Tomorrow is just one test out of many you have taken before, and many that you will take in the future.

Of course this ACT test measures a bunch of stuff that you know and that you’ve practiced: circles, commas, vocabulary and science concepts to name a few.

But remember there are also more important things that the ACT does not measure.

Your ingenuity.

Your wit.

Your humor.

Your heart.

And thousands of other things that make you an incredible human being.

But what about college you say?

You’ll go to college somewhere. Or you won’t. There are myriad opportunities and possibilities. One of those will be your path.

Tomorrow is about you doing your best with the preparation you have been given.

Use what you know.

Do what you’ve been taught.

And in a weird nerdy way - have fun. Relax. Treat the test like the unique game that it is, and then crush it!

Whatever happens tomorrow, it’s one test on one day.

No matter what, you’ll still be the same immeasurably valuable human being that you are right now.


Kevin DotyComment
10 things you should be doing to prepare for the ACT this week.

You (or someone you know) may be getting ready to take their first (or 2nd or 3rd?) standardized test this Saturday. You may have spent hours - even days - taking practice tests, going to classes and brushing up on content.

What you may not have thought about are other aspects of test taking that are just as critical but aren't normally covered in test prep classes or books.

To help you get ready for this Saturday, here are 10 things that you should consider and plan for this week to be your best for the test.

  1. Materials - What will you take to the test? Do you need batteries for your calculator? Where is your favorite pencil? Pack a bag NOW that has everything you need so that you can just grab it on Saturday morning. Even better, put it in front of the door so you literally have to move it to leave.
  2. Clothes - What will you wear to the test? It should be comfortable but still presentable. Your attire should match the seriousness with which you are taking the test. The better you look, the better you feel, which means the better you will perform. Lay out your clothes now so that you don’t have to decide Saturday morning.
  3. Morning Routine - What do you want Saturday morning to look like? Don’t just imagine it; literally get out some paper or your phone and specifically plan out the morning. What time do you have to get up? How long does it take to get to the test site? Do you need to stop anywhere along the way? Plan your whole morning and if possible do a run through of your scenario several times this week so that you can ensure there are no surprises Saturday morning.
  4. Sleep - Everyone needs differing amounts, but 8 hours is a solid average. This week, go to bed at a consistent time and set a good routine. But be careful, don't 'binge sleep' later this week and try to make up for your bad sleep habits in the past. When planning your wake up time for Saturday, estimate that you will need at least an hour after getting up to be fully awake for the test.
  5. Hydration - Your body is 60% water. You need it. Drink more of it.
  6. Eating - Eating well can have a profound impact on how well you think and feel. Be smart about what you’re putting into your body this week and thoughtful about the snacks you take with you into the exam. Be careful of too much sugar, and eliminate the crappy food. Instead emphasize proteins and complex carbohydrates.
  7. Caffeine - Caffeine is great; I adore my morning coffee. But too much can screw up your thought processes and make you jittery and irritable. Plus the crash coming down from your caffeine blitz will likely to happen halfway through the test and lead to a poor score.
  8. Exercise - This is not the week to start a new exercise routine. However, if you are currently on a regular regimen be sure to continue it. If not, going for walks, doing schoolwork while standing or being sure to at least walk to the fridge every hour can help keep things limber and improve how you feel so you can concentrate.
  9. Emotional - This is not the week to break up with your significant other or have a giant fight with your parents or get fired from your job. Sometimes these things just happen, but keep yourself in check as much as possible.
  10. Other personal aspects - There may be other aspects that are important you. Perhaps medications or conditions that would impact your ability to focus well for 4 hours or so. Make these part of your plan as well.

Bottom line: Monitor what you’re doing this week, and the things you can control. Your goal is to make the best use of the preparation you’ve already put in by being mindful about these other aspects of your performance.

Just like any athlete or artist preparing for an important event, planning for and deciding these aspects of preparation now means that none of these become issues that are taking up space in your brain which you can use to better think about the test.

Anything else that you do that has helped you get prepared for a test? Let me know in the comments below. I'd love to hear what's worked for you.

Best of luck on Saturday!


PS - If you find this article helpful, forward it to someone who could also use it. To get my help on your next test or to find out more go to my website at

*A special thank you to my student Henry who helped edit a draft of this article.

Kevin Dotytest prepComment
6 things you can do RIGHT NOW to make final exams less stressful.


I have some frustrating news. I'm sorry to say, but finals will come again.

The semester is just underway. Before we get too far away from last semester, now is an excellent time to think about your finals performance and how you can use that to make this semester SO MUCH better.

There is a better way to prepare for finals, if you start now!


Wouldn't it be great if you could go into this semester's finals feeling well prepared. You wouldn't have to dread the teacher's or professor's reminder about the final project or the announcement of the final exam.

Instead you would know that a bunch of small actions you started taking right now made your finals way easier. In fact, you could go to bed early nearly every night of finals week - no all-nighters, no waking up in a cold sweat at 3am realizing you forgot to study a math topic or to write the last paragraph of your paper.


How can you make it easy right now?

The first step is to figure out exactly what you did the last time. Here's how:

1) Set aside about 30 minutes. Take out a piece of paper or a new page in a Google doc for each of your classes last semester. Now be brutally honest with yourself. What exactly did you do to prepare for the final in this class? Set a timer for 5 minutes and write non-stop on this topic. As you think about your finals performance, here some questions to get you started: What worked for the test? What did you do that was pointless? What would you definitely repeat the next time? Don't try to organize your thoughts, just get as much out of your head and down on paper as you can.

2) Give yourself a day or two and come back to your page. Now you can organize your thoughts into 3 columns: GOOD, NEUTRAL, and BAD. Take what you wrote in the last exercise and place each of your actions into one of these categories. If you think of other actions you did during finals, like watched too much Bob's Burgers instead of studying, add those to your lists as well.


What will you do next time?

3) Say YES to the GOOD actions that worked! See how you can incorporate those same behaviors into the work that you're doing right now! For example, if you found practice exams were especially helpful to you on the math exam, how could you use your homework as your own 'practice exam' for an upcoming quiz or test?

4) Say NO to the BAD actions that were ineffective. This allows you to not only do less, but also to try new things. What should you try? Start with....

5) The NEUTRAL items. Were these neutral because you did them wrong? What could you change about them to make them better. Not perfect, just a little bit better. Test them on your next homework or quiz. If you can make the action work, keep it. If not, get rid of it.

And one critical action you can take RIGHT NOW!

6) Studying is about only two things - the right actions and the right materials. If you're studying the wrong stuff or it's horribly disorganized, the studying will not go well. Start RIGHT NOW to organize your class work, homework, quizzes and tests using what one productivity guru calls, "begin with the end in mind."† Find out what you can about the final exam or paper and use that end goal to organize your current material so that it's easy to manage (because you're doing it right now) and quick (because it's much smaller pieces). For example:

  • Old Tests - Keep track of your tests as you progress through the semester. Combine them with any practice problems you found helpful.
  • Class Notes - Pull out and combine class notes that are applicable to a project or final paper. Organize them by topic and they can be rearranged as you tackle the assignment.
  • Reading Notes - Use your reading annotations to glean material for final assignments. A good strategy is to use 3x5 card to write the book page and the idea or thought you want to capture. Give each card a meaningful topic heading so that you can combine or mix-and-match topics for your assignment.


Ultimately you want to start thinking about your preparation from the beginning of the semester. Who wants to do twice or three times the work later on? Not me! Anticipate what you need or what you think will be useful or thought provoking and set it aside so that when it's time to start studying or writing you can jump right in.


PS - DO NOT worry about your system being perfect. Just start somewhere. You can't improve a process or system that you haven't even tried yet.


Tell me what you think!

Have any tips of your own or feedback on this article you'd like to share? Email me your thoughts. I'd love to hear from you!


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† Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kevin DotyComment