Free SAT Prep Classes

Written on March 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm , by

My kids have frequently used the Khan Academy to improve their grades, catch up on classes and complete their homework. So the announcement (above) that this free online classroom has partnered with the College Board to make SAT prep free to everyone made me very happy.

My son has taken the SAT three times and plans to take it again. Every time he does, he plans to study. But somehow he never manages to get in enough studying before test day. Next time, he won’t be trying to drag himself through a book. And I won’t feel guilty if I can’t afford to buy him an expensive test preparation class. Because, according to David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, the Khan Academy will be the best place to prepare for this exam going forward. “To be clear,” explains Coleman in the above video, “this will be the only place in the world—and free to the world—besides on our own website, that students will be able to encounter materials for the exam that are focused on the core of the math and the literacy that matters most…There will be no other partnerships, so this will be the best there is.”

So that’s where my son will be taking practice tests, watching Sal Khan work through actual SAT questions, retaking tests, practicing with real SAT reading and writing problems provided by the College Board, and doing it all from whatever tablet, smartphone or computer he happens to be in front of. To make sure he’s on track, I can act as coach and check his progress online.

For 2016, the SAT will be completely redesigned to put the emphasis back on testing knowledge rather than mastery of test-taking tricks. The Khan Academy is working in partnership with the College Board to create study materials—available for free to everyone!—to go with the revamped SAT, too.

Free test prep for college, free college classes for all students. I love the democratic, egalitarian place the Internet is taking education. All we have to do is dial up learning instead of silly cat videos and we can change the world. It gives me hope.


Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at

How Far Would You Push Your Kids to Learn a Second Language?

Written on September 19, 2011 at 11:55 am , by


In today’s increasingly global society, there’s more emphasis than ever to teach kids a second language. But how far would you go to make your kids bilingual?

This weekend’s New York Times magazine featured the fascinating and thought-provoking piece, “My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling.” The author, Clifford J. Levy, a reporter at the paper, was transferred to Moscow for four years. His family accompanied him abroad. But instead of enrolling his kids (then in kindergarten, third and fifth grade) in an English-speaking international school, he and his wife opted to place them in a Russian school. No matter that they didn’t speak a word of the language and wouldn’t have translators or English-speaking tutors. But Levy and wife hoped they would become fluent by immersion. The kids eventually did, but not without lots of effort, resilience and strife. (Not to mention daily did-we-make-the-right-decision doubt on the part of the parents.)

As someone who only speaks one language, I regret never becoming proficient at another, earlier in life. (Though I’m slowly trying to rectify that by studying Spanish.) But now that I know how important and useful it is to be bilingual, I definitely plan to emphasize language-learning when I have kids–even if it’s not as extreme as four years of Russian immersion in Moscow.

How important is raising bilingual kids, to you? Are you pushing your children to become proficient in a second language? If so, which one? If your family ever moved abroad, would you make them learn the language of whatever country you’re in? Share your thoughts below.

photo via ChernoVAnton/flickr

How Important Are College Rankings?

Written on September 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm , by

Today U.S. News and World Report released their 2012 college rankings. Recently retooled, they’re based on a number of factors, including the schools’ undergraduate academic reputations and student selectivity.  I’m currently a graduate student at NYU. As I read the rankings, my thoughts were, in rapid succession:

  1. Oh, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are in the top 3 slots? Who could have seen that coming? (Please note the sarcasm.)
  2. Sweet – my undergrad and graduate schools got really respectable rankings!
  3. Um…bragging rights aside, I’m not sure this means anything

The way I see it, the rankings are a good place to start your kid’s college search, but they can’t be the only – or the most important – selection criteria. Instead, use them as a jumping off point. Note what they say about academics, class size, diversity, prevalence of Greek life and school setting, but understand that no collection of statistics can really capture the college experience.  Rather than relying on a ranking, have your kid talk to a current student or a recent alum. (College admissions offices will be happy to help you out with that.) Take your teen to the campus and see what vibe she gets.

I knew I wanted to go to Tufts University, my undergrad alma mater, when I first visited and saw the pathways covered in chalk. Amidst landscaped lawns and brick buildings, the colorful chalk announced club meetings, advertised events or just displayed pictures. I figured that a school that was academically respected and yet able to not take itself too seriously was the place I wanted to be. The ice cream in the cafeteria and the five-hour train ride that stood between there and home were draws, too. To this day, I’m not sure the percentage of women vs. men on campus or my average class size, but I remember eating pizza in the library foyer at 3 a.m. during finals week with some friends. My school isn’t in the U.S News top 5 (or 20), but I could not imagine having a better experience anywhere else.

Another reason not to rely on ratings too much? Your kid’s college experience will largely be shaped by what he puts into it—and therefore, what he gets from it. If he works with inspiring professors, tries new things, makes friends and comes away having grown and changed, it may not matter whether he went to an ivy league institution or the University of What’s-It-Called. College is about finding the right fit, then making the most of it.

Readers, what do you think? Are you and your kid combing over the ratings or ignoring them all together? Do you find them useful in your college search? Share your thoughts below.

Should Students Be Required to Take Sex Ed?

Written on August 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm , by

In New York City, they will be. Starting this year, sex ed will be a mandated part of NYC’s public school curriculum for middle and high schoolers. The semester-long, co-ed class for 6th or 7th graders and 9th or 10th graders will include lessons on the proper way to use condoms; discussions about pregnancy and STDs; and role-playing exercises teaching kids how to say “No” when they’re being pressured into sex, according to the New York Times.

The article also notes that nationwide, only 20 states and Washington D.C. require sex and H.I.V. education in schools.

Readers, what’s the sex ed situation where you live? Are you for or against mandated classes in school? And when did you start giving your kids “the talk” at home? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

Jenna Bush Hager is an advocate of education and literacy—and she’s really nice, too!

Written on June 20, 2011 at 9:00 am , by

I had the pleasure of hearing Jenna Bush Hager speak at a breakfast this week for Wonderopolis, a website where parents and tweens can discover cool things together. Its mission is to make learning a fun family activity using real-world knowledge and curiosity based on the context of daily life.

The site focuses on a Wonder of the Day (“Why is the Statue of Liberty Green?”), and answers are provided via explanations, videos and activities. And it’s not just for little kids—some of the Wonders of the Day stumped me!

Jenna spoke about her experience as a teacher and even got choked up about missing her students in the classroom (love)! But mostly she emphasized the importance of parents sharing in kids’ learning. To combat summer learning loss, the National Center for Family Literacy and Wonderopolis are launching Camp What-A-Wonder, a program that takes place online every Thursday until August 11. Wonderopolis becomes a virtual camp where kids can explore topics like crawling critters, crafts and campfire cooking, and parents can discuss topics with a facilitator on Twitter each week at 8pm EST. I’ll bring the marshmallows!

Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images