Author Archive | Lisa Amato

Online Test Prep Resources

Image by Miss Lolita, Flickr

Image by Miss Lolita, Flickr

We recently came across a few free online test prep resource we’d like to share. Share your favourites in the comments below and we’ll keep this post updated with all the best resources for exam prep!

Varsity Learning Tools
A free resource with over 75,000 professionally written problems and thousands of distinct practice tests across 150 subjects. Subjects include history, math, foreign languages, and science for all experience levels, as well as practice tests and problems for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, ISEE, and SSAT.

Khan Academy
Khan Academy’s goal is to provide free resources for students of all ages. They have the typical math and science prep, but also include resources for subjects like art history. They have partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences, and MIT to offer specialized content.

Exam Masters
Exam Masters provides tutoring and test prep resources for high school students in math and science. They also offer tutoring for the SAT, ACT, SSAT, and LNAT. Free resources include practice tests and subject notes.

Gold Standard MCAT Prep
Gold Standard MCAT Prep is what it sounds like – an MCAT practice test provider. Providing MCAT test preparation tools for over 25 years, they have a number of options for test preparation courses, including free practice tests and helpful information & tips on their blog. 

Tutor the People MCAT Prep
Tutor the People creates an individualized approach to MCAT tutoring and offers both in-person and online sessions. The tutors have all written the MCAT themselves, and they offer the first hour free to see if it’s something you can benefit from.

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Excel on Standardized Tests with These 5 Tips

Image by Alberto G, Flickr

Image by Alberto G, Flickr

Standardized testing plays a major role in every stage of education, and in some cases, standardized testing can make or break you. You need to score well on standardized tests to get into college and grad school, and after that, you need to score well on standardized tests to enter the workforce.  In many states, high stakes tests begin as early as the 5th grade, and they bring with them a lot of pressure. There are a few things that you can do before the big test to help calm your nerves before getting your brain focused on the task:

Repetition

There is a wealth of testing practice available that can help you prepare for any high stakes tests, including tutoring agencies, online practice tests, and personal tutors.  Utilizing one of these programs will get you the repetition and practice you need for the big day. Just like anything in life, practice makes perfect, and if you want to perfect that score, you need consistent practice.

Read

Reading to education is like weightlifting to football. The more you read, the stronger your brain becomes. High stakes standardized tests require complex thinking, and the brain needs to be exercised in order to carry out that task. Reading will give the brain the exercise it needs to think through challenging questions.

Pay Attention to Vocabulary

A strong vocabulary is crucial to passing high stakes test. Be it the need for domain specific vocabulary, jargon related to a field, or simply vocabulary to sound intelligent, you need to pay close attention to the words that those around you use.  One way to do this is to listen to the words used in pop culture or in the media.  News reports are chockfull of great words that act as grace notes — the exact right word.  Begin to ask yourself, “What connotation did the word carry to make it the right word?”  You will begin to see the nuances in language, and it will help you tremendously when it comes to taking those high stakes standardized tests.

Practice Reading Questions Carefully

One thing that many people struggle with when it comes to standardized tests is question reading.  Many people begin to read the question and then skim through the rest assuming they know what the question was asking.  If you catch yourself doing this, keep this in mind:  Test takers know you do this, so they write questions to catch people who do this.  Take your time, read the question fully, and then answer the question.  If you know you are a person who skims and then responds, practice reading test questions so that you can train your brain to slow down.

Pace Yourself

Do not spend too much time stressing over one question. Time is valuable when it comes to high stakes standardized tests, so if you have to move on, do so.  If you spend too much time stressing over one answer, you could run out of time and miss questions you could have easily answered.  Move on and come back.

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Review: Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2

 
 
Does your hand cramp up when using your finger to draw or write on your tablet for extended periods of time? If you’re open to trying out a stylus, this one may be right for you.

IMG_4905

The Intuos Creative Stylus 2

The Intuos Creative Stylus 2 has a smooth and comfortable grip. The three buttons along the side are easy to access and press. The nib on this stylus is fatter than the Fineline but just as accurate. The stylus needs to charge for two hours (it took just under this for me), and then can function for up to 26 hours.

You’ll need to download an app to draw or write with the stylus (unless you’re just looking to click and swipe between apps, in which case, continue on!). The package suggests downloading Bamboo Paper but there are other compatible apps at the link below if this one doesn’t strike your fancy.

The package comes with a replacement nib, which is easy to switch. The pen case comes with a little metal hole at the bottom where you insert the nib; a simple tilt to the side removes the old one. This was slightly nerve-wracking and I thought I may have broken the nib, but applying gentle pressure removes it in one piece.

This stylus is intended for those planning to be more creative and work for extended periods of time. The grip is great for this and the pen is light. Find out more about using the Intuos Creative Stylus 2 here: https://www.wacom.com/en-us/getting-started/intuos-creative-stylus-2-getting-started.

The Highlights

  • MSR Price: $79.95 US
  • USB cable for charging
  • Charging time: Approximately 2 hours (mine took an hour and 45 minutes)
  • Life: Once charged, the stylus can last up to 26 hours before needing another charge
  • Side buttons: can configure for different functions based on the app you’re using
  • LED light: red when charging, flashes blue to signify a connection
  • Nib: Carbon fibre mesh tip moves more smoothly across the screen than a rubber tip. Package contains replacement nib (2048 pressure levels) and nib removal tool
  • Feel: Light, comfortable, and easy to manage. Ergonomic, flared soft-touch grip
  • Contains pen case
  • Usage: Ideal for drawing. Use it on your own time as a hobby, or in your art classes.

Purchase the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus 2 from Amazon here.

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WHOOSH! Away that Dirt

whoosh

We had the opportunity to test out WHOOSH! Screen Shine this week, and it really is impressive. Let’s back up a second and think about just how dirty our phones are. From food-covered fingerprints to oily faces, who knows how much bacteria is actually on there? And if you’re like me, the most cleaning you’ll do for your phone is a quick wipe with your shirt sleeve.

And then there’s WHOOSH! It wipes off bacteria, makes your screen shine, and, what I personally like the most, resists fingerprints. It’s guaranteed to be safe for all screens and is 100% non-toxic. WHOOSH pitched on Dragon’s Den (aired on March 4, 2015), and after seeing where they sprayed it (hint: it really shows how non-toxic the product is), I had to give it a try.

The use of it is similar to every other screen cleaner (even window or glass cleaners): spray the microfibre cloth and wipe. WHOOSH! has added in an extra step – use the other side of the cloth to polish your screen afterwards. I wasn’t quite sure which side to use for the spraying/wiping and which to use for the polishing, but it worked out just fine.

The Pocket and On-The-Go sizes are great to bring around with you to class, and I’d recommend keeping the 3.4 fl. oz. version (which you get as part of the Duo+ package) at home or in your dorm room. What I love about the Duo+ is the size combination – you really get the best of both worlds. This image shows you the size difference between the three as compared to an iPhone 4S.

From left to right: Pocket, On-The-Go, and Duo+ 3.4 fl. oz. WHOOSH! bottles

From left to right: Pocket, On-The-Go, and Duo+ 3.4 fl. oz. WHOOSH! bottles

I tried it on my MacBook Air screen first. It took a couple of presses on the spray bottle (as with any new one) to get the liquid flowing, but I did get a generous spray on the cloth, and did with every time after this. There was no elbow grease required; it really just took a few wipes to remove the dirt and fingerprints from the screen.

What I was most curious about was the “resists fingerprints” part – so I’m literally sitting here stroking my post-WHOOSH! screen as if it were a cat. I’m purposefully poking it, and it’s true – I don’t see any fingerprints. Consider my curiosity piqued.

We pride ourselves on giving unbiased reviews, pros and cons included, but there are really no cons I can identify here (I’m trying, I swear!). Even the packaging is easy to open and is resealable.

Check out the WHOOSH! website for more information.

The Highlights

  • Three sizes: Pocket (0.3 fluid ounces); On-The-Go (1 fluid ounce); Duo+ (one 3.4 fluid ounce bottle and one 0.3 fluid ounce bottle)
  • MSRP: Pocket: $4.99; On-The-Go: $9.99; Duo+: $19.99
  • Cloth: 6”x6” anti-microbial screen cleaning microfibre
  • Ingredients: 100% non-toxic (ingredients have been reviewed by NSF International) and made with biodegradable surfactants (no harmful residues to worry about). Does not contain alcohol, acids, ammonia, chlorine, solvents, petroleum distillates, phosphates or VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds)
  • ‘Safe for your Screen’ Guarantee: Should a screen get damaged using their product, they will repair the screen or replace the device at no cost

I’d recommend this product – in fact, I will be busy cleaning all the screens I have with it.

Interested in purchasing? Check out the size that’s right for you:

WHOOSH 31008MLSSR Screen Shine Pocket Screen Cleaning Kit

WHOOSH 31030MLSSR Screen Shine Go Screen Cleaning Kit

WHOOSH 31100BMLSSR Screen Shine Duo Cleaning Kit

Is a “Work from Home” Culture Right for You?

Image by Betta Living, Flickr

Image by Betta Living, Flickr

Times have changed. Some companies (mostly younger or entrepreneurial) have begun transitioning from in-office work to work from home cultures, and while at first this may seem to be an ideal, how-can-you-pass-this-up, I-must-work-there opportunity, take a bit of time to think about whether this culture would really match your personality, and ask the questions you need to know.

Working from home is still a fairly new trend, and with that comes a huge stigma that employees who work from home are not really working – they’re lazing around, watching TV, napping, and running errands. Some employers have the mentality that if they can’t see their employees working, they aren’t – and that puts added pressure on the people who do work from home to prove themselves.

So let’s talk about this:

Pros

Cons

  • Save time with no commute
  • Save money with no commute, by making lunch and coffee at home
  • Have productive lunch breaks by working out, shopping, or prepping for dinner
  • Wear comfortable clothing
  • Work where you want to (no stuffy cubicles)
  • If you have a laptop, option to work from a coffee shop/library
  • Enjoy peace and quiet with no office drama
  • No face-to-face meetings
  • No in-office, professional experience
  • Lack of social interaction
  • Must keep yourself motivated and limit distractions
  • Pressure to be proactive to show employers you’re not just doing the minimum
  • Expense reports (if you’re required to use your personal cell phone at home for work calls)
  • Employers must be trusting
  • If other employees work in the office, must make sure there is no resentment

When I first started my job, I worked in the office five days a week. Now, I work remotely 80% of the time. For my company, it came down to trust. Was I accessible when they instant messaged? Did I respond to emails in a timely manner? Was I available for calls? Was work completed by deadlines? Was I proactive instead of reactive in projects? It was a slow process but has become common for all of us to work remotely a few days a week. This results in a great work-life balance, and there is no resentment among employees if some are in the office and others are remote.

If we need to have an internal company meeting, many times these can be accomplished via conference call. Working late is easier when you’re remote, as there are no issues with catching a train or bus. However, those one to two days a week where everyone is in the office, we take advantage of the face time. It’s often easier to make decisions or explain issues in person.

When deciding if you want to work for a company with this culture, it all comes down to personal preference. I’m a huge advocate of working from home if the employee has the right attitude about it. My commute into the office is just under two hours, includes a bus, a subway, and a streetcar, and costs about $12 per day. By working from home, I get two hours of extra sleep in the morning, am able to fit in a workout before dinner, and drink less coffee. It can get lonely with no social interaction, but for my personality, this isn’t an issue – I’m happy with a quiet atmosphere. If it does get too quiet, I’ll play some music or use my lunch hour to go for a walk, shop, or schedule an appointment.

Most importantly, working from home makes me feel empowered. I’m trusted to do my own work on time and manage my schedule the way it makes sense for me. Feeling empowered makes me motivated to do a better job, which makes me a happy employee – and my employer a happy boss.

That being said, just because this culture fits my lifestyle doesn’t mean it’s right for you. If you’re worried about resisting the TV or craving a social atmosphere, you may prefer to be in the office. You must be self-motivated to work from home, and you must be able to build up the trust of your employer. Working from home is still working – remember, it’s not time off and not something to take advantage of.

Review: Wacom Bamboo Stylus Fineline

 
 
So you’re in the market for a stylus, but with so many options out there, how do you choose which one is right for you? I had a look at Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus Fineline. For my purposes, I used the stylus to brainstorm, but it can also be used for artists who are a bit more creative than myself.

IMG_4906

The Bamboo Stylus Fineline

For those of you new to the stylus game, you are able to use the product as if it was your finger for basic functions on the iPad – swiping, selecting, etc. However, if you’re looking to scribble down notes or draw, you can’t just activate the stylus and start drawing in Apple Notes – you will need to download an app (and there are many). Wacom recommends downloading Bamboo Paper, which I did. If you get frustrated easily, this may irk you.

Within the app, I found the pen responsive, and content I scribbled out was accurate. There were a few times when the pen didn’t make direct contact with the iPad and it skipped, but once I became comfortable with it, this happened less. It helps if you tilt the pen at the angle you’re writing in.

The cap doesn’t stay well on the back of the pen, but it wasn’t an issue for me – I left it off. If you have bigger hands, you may want the extra length. I won’t be using a stylus every day, but I see it being useful for those with bigger fingers who have difficulty pinpointing items on a touch screen.

Here is the key information students should know before purchasing the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Fineline. You can also visit the Wacom website.

The Highlights

  • MSR Price: $59.99 US
  • USB cable for charging
  • Charging time: Approximately 2 hours (mine took an hour and 45 minutes)
  • Life: Once charged, the stylus can last up to 26 hours before needing another charge
  • Side button: can configure for different functions based on the app you’re using
  • LED light: red when charging, flashes blue to signify a connection
  • Stylus cap
  • Nib: Carbon fibre mesh tip is fairly thin (as in the product name), but still thicker than a regular pen. It moves more smoothly across the screen than a rubber tip
  • Feel: Light, comfortable, and easy to manage; solid product that doesn’t feel flimsy or cheap
  • Usage: Ideal for brainstorming maps. If you’re a visual learner, draw out key points for your study notes and show how they relate to each other. The tip is rounded so may not be the best for accuracy in sketching.

Purchase the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Fineline from Amazon here.

IMG_4907

Taking Notes by Hand vs. with a Laptop

Image by Tulane Publications, Flickr

Image by Tulane Publications, Flickr

Many students can’t bear to head to class without their laptop in tow. Laptops have come so far – they’re fast and light, allow you to multitask (all lecture-related activities, of course), and your notes stay neat and organized. Not like your chicken-scratch writing that stops halfway through the lecture because your pen ran out of ink.

Hold on a second – there’s a lot to be said for taking notes by hand. You’ve heard before that it’s better for studying and digesting content. Let’s examine the differences between handwriting vs. typing.

Writing by Hand

  • Less distractions. There are no other open windows, no messaging icon bouncing to get your attention. You’re not tempted to open up games or Facebook or even that next class’s assignment that’s due in 20 minutes. You’re free to just focus on the lecture.
  • It takes thought. I don’t know about you, but my typing is way faster than my writing, and it’s almost mindless. A sentence runs through my head, and suddenly it’s on the screen. It’s not the same with writing by hand – you’re physically carving every letter into your paper, and that makes it stick (at least more so than typing it).
  • There’s no fluff. Since writing by hand is considerably slower than typing, you don’t have time to scribble out every word that escapes your fast-talking professor’s mouth. Yes, this is a good thing. You’re removing all the fluff and marking down the main points – which results in more brain activity since you need to understand the concepts before you can summarize them.

Typing with a Laptop

  • It’s faster and easier. Writing by hand can be stressful, and if you’re focused, typing out your notes can be much more relaxing. Your hands don’t usually cramp as fast and there’s less of a chance of you missing out on an important point. And if you did miss something, you can just slot it in later.
  • It’s organized. You don’t need to worry about figuring out what in the world that scribble was supposed to say, your bullet points are aligned, and everything is broken out into neat sections with a bold headline – maybe you’ve even thrown a table in there. It’s a beautiful thing! Even better is using the “Find” function when studying so you don’t have to waste time searching for that one time you used that one word in that one sentence.
  • Multitasking – if you’re disciplined. Stay signed out of any kind of social media – messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Close your internet browser and only keep open the Word document you’re using to take notes. If your professor asks for an example, that’s the time to Google an answer to show you’re keen and paying attention! Multitasking should only be lecture-related, to enhance your understanding of the topics.

Every student has their own preference and study habits. Maybe you prefer to ingest as much information as possible right from the start with handwriting and really pulling out the core concepts from the lecture. Or maybe you prefer to type out as much as you can mindlessly and go back later to analyze the content and type out summaries when studying. My advice: test out both methods and see which works better for you!

Education Around the World

 
 
 
limerickTutorial

A detailed breakdown in education statistics is covered for the following geographical areas in this infographic: North America and Western Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, East Asia and the Pacific, Central Asia, South and West Asia, Arab States, Sub Saharan Africa.

Contributed by Limerick Tutorial College.

Canadian University Report: Globe and Mail

Canadian-University-Report

We came across something on the Globe and Mail’s website that we just had to share with you. Within a section called “Canadian University Report” sit a number of articles on what you might want to know about university. Here are a few we think you should check out:

University profiles to help you choose
61 Canadian universities are reviewed in this article. For each university, it outlines how many students attend, the cost of tuition, the number of programs offered, and admission competition. A profile of your “typical classmate” is included, as well as a quote from a current student.

The pros and cons of different student jobs
This article identifies the pros and cons of off-campus jobs, on-campus jobs, and co-op programs. It explains that the transferable skills learned at work are valuable, no matter what your student job might be.

Students: How to make the money stretch for eight months
It’s difficult for first year students to predict how expensive the school year might be. This article forecasts costs and recommends resources students can refer to, so it’s a great read for first year students who aren’t sure what to expect.

Four tips to land a job straight out of school
The number one worry on every student’s mind is finding a job after school. This article identifies four ways you can increase your chances at landing employment. If you take these steps right from first year, you’ll be even better off.

Universities that teach you to change the world
“The” course to take at university these days is social entrepreneurship. This article identifies a few schools in Canada that have excellent social programs. If you want to change the world, take a look at these schools.

Read the remaining articles here.

8 Secret Ingredients to Punch Up Your Recipes

Image by nSeika, Flickr

Image by nSeika, Flickr

Do you find yourself making the same meals over and over again? With Meatloaf Mondays and Taco Tuesdays, your meals are starting to sound like questionable dishes in a teen movie cafeteria. You don’t need to live this way. Something as simple as one ingredient can spice up your meal so it tastes brand new – and might even impress guests (or your mom) when they come to visit.

Here are some suggestions:

Dish: Pasta
Secret ingredient: Bacon
Whether you use a jar from the store, your mom’s sauce, or good old Kraft Dinner, adding some bacon instantly kicks up the flavour. Just cut it up into pieces and fry it in a pan before throwing it into the sauce.

Dish: Chicken
Secret ingredient: Dijon mustard
After frying up chicken in a pan, mix together some dijon mustard and white wine in the pan to make a tangy, creamy, and super-easy sauce. To make it even creamier, add sour cream. For another kick, add chives or green onions.

Dish: Rice
Secret ingredient: Lemon juice
After cooking up your minute rice, add a bit of lemon juice. If you’re feeling adventurous, cut up some red peppers and add some peas to it as well. You’ll have a colourful and flavourful side dish that looks and tastes like you put in a lot of effort. Best part: It tastes great cold as lunch leftovers.

Dish: Cold cuts
Secret ingredient: Roasted red peppers
Pick up a jar of these at the grocery store. When making a basic cold cut sandwich, add in a roasted red pepper, and the flavour is not only completely different, but mouthwatering.

Dish: Fish
Secret ingredient: Corn flakes
Sounds like a weird combination, but it’s a good one. Just crumble up the corn flakes (plain ones, not frosted…obviously) with a bit of butter, and cover the raw fish in them. Then put it in the oven on a baking dish and you’ll have a crispy coated fish.

Dish: Potato salad
Secret ingredient: Paprika
Make your potato salad the way you usually do – nice and creamy. Adding a sprinkle of paprika over the top will give you that extra kick you were looking for.

Dish: Chicken noodle soup
Secret ingredient: An egg
When your soup is almost ready to serve, crack an egg in a bowl and beat it. Take a ladle of soup and put it into the bowl, beating constantly with a fork. Add another ladle and keep beating. Then take a small amount at a time from the bowl and add it back into the pot as you stir, until the bowl is empty. Stir and serve! Now your boxed chicken noodle soup is egg-drop soup, or “stracciatella” if you want to be a fancy Italian chef.

Dish: Nearly anything
Secret ingredient: Spices
Stock up on the basic dried spices – oregano, sage, basil, rosemary, chilli flakes – and experiment. Throw some into your pasta sauce or on your chicken, and taste the flavour change with each spice you try. If you’re feeling adventurous, try stronger spices like cumin or coriander.