Six Ways to Reset in the New Year

As we start a new year, we typically search for the “resolutions” that will bring more happiness and satisfaction through a list of external validations and measurable goals. During this busy time, we often overlook the power of slowing down and paying attention to where we are, rather than where we want to be.

Private Prep incorporates Performance Prep, which are tools and strategies designed to help students mentally prepare for performing under pressure, into all of our services. These skills can be, and should be, utilized throughout life to help ease stress. As you look to set obtainable goals and manage stress in the new year, here are six suggestions for ways to clear the noise and focus on what matters.

The Power of Breath

Breathing happens, whether we are trying to or not. Taking something as simple as your breath and doing it intentionally is a great way to remind ourselves that even the smallest things can be done with purpose and care. When life is feeling a little too big or intense, turn your attention to the physical sensation of air entering and leaving your body. The goal is simple: notice where in your body you experience the sensations of expansion and relaxation. Centering on the breath helps to slow down the moment and de-clutter your mind.

Calming Breath Exercise

1. Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs.
2. Hold your breath as you count to “three.”
3. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach.


Try and ditch any preconceived thoughts you may have about meditation. It’s a simple approach to training the mind that uses awareness and perspective to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state (something that will come in quite handy before taking your next exam). Start small, aiming to meditate a few times per week.

We recommend one of these apps to get started. You can start out with really short sessions (as in under a minute) and work your way up.

Unplug Meditation – Private Prep partnered with Unplug to develop a series of videos targeting the stress associated with test prep.

Headspace – A wonderful app to dip your toes into the meditation pond as it guides you through the process.

Smiling Mind – This app can be tailored to all members of the family by age – even those as young as seven years old.

Calm – Features meditation, music for relaxation and video lessons on mindful movement and gentle stretching

Note how you feel on those days you meditate and those you do not. Is there a noticeable difference?


Controlling the Controllables

Energy, time, decisions: all of these come in limited quantities. So why do we insist on spending so much of them on worrying? As stimuli come flying towards us, take a moment to consciously separate them into things we can control versus things we cannot. That to-do list will be a lot more manageable when it only contains what is up to you.

Control Exercise:

As you head toward a practice test or real test, make a list of all of the factors in play on the day of the test (e.g., eating a good breakfast, noise in the test room, temperature in the Test Room, solid rest, etc.) and categorize those things you can control and those you cannot.

No Judgment

Judgment is the chain of reactions to a bad or distracting thought or event, a chain of follow-ups that exacerbates the problem. The practice of no judgment starts by letting your feelings slide: If you get frustrated, simply acknowledge the frustration and let it go. Working to take self-judgment out of your day-to-day is a wonderful first step towards a life focused on the process, not on the results.

The Power of “Yet”

Our children are coming home from school saying, “I’m not good at multiplication, yet.” The powerful addition of the word “yet” stems from research by Stanford University’s Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck’s work investigates the effect simply thinking you can or can’t learn a skill has on your ability to actually learn it. Her studies find that maintaining a “growth mindset” (as opposed to a “fixed” belief in your abilities) keeps the brain ready to expand and take on new abilities. If you trust that dedication and hard work are the starting ingredients for a new skill, you open the doors to a boundless and joyful life of learning and accomplishment. Watch Dr. Dweck’s TED Talk to learn more about her work and “The Power of Yet.”

Technology for Time Management

(Technology) x (Parents of teens) = Arguments over screen-time and contentious negotiations regarding cell phone use. But as often as the smartphone is a distraction, it can be harnessed to help students who struggle with organization, time management and the development of productive routines. However, the use of technology for organization is not a one-size-fits-all solution: take the time to find a tech tool that works by experimenting with a few different apps. Parenting Tweens and Teens has a list of five organizational apps to check out. Common Sense has a diverse list of apps with solid options for those that might not engage with a traditional list and calendar-style app.

If you want help finding a tool that your child is excited about, reach out to your director, who can connect you with one of our Academic Skills Coaches. A Coach can work with your child on a personalized approach to an organized life.

Making Sense of PSAT Scores

PSAT scores are out, and with them come enthusiastic questions about the PSAT’s big brothers, the SAT and ACT. Here are some important notes to keep in mind as you review your child’s PSAT score:

  • Test prep strategies help students with standardized tests of all kinds. ACT and SAT coaching alike will create a boost in PSAT performance. PSAT scores may reflect the tutoring they received prior to the October PSAT more than their initial diagnostic exam scores.
  • Material and content review also overlap between exams. While the ACT and SAT do differ in content, the core of each is the same. Time spent reviewing ACT content will largely translate to the SAT, and vice versa.
  • The PSAT is a shorter test, is taken in school, and doesn’t have collegiate ramifications. These facts decrease test-taking factors of fatigue and pressure, sometimes resulting in scores that look even better than current practice test scores.

Accordingly, a strong PSAT performance does not mean a student is more inclined towards the SAT versus the ACT. It’s understandable that an excellent PSAT showing could sow some seeds of doubt on ACT preparations, tempting a change to the SAT. If you are doubting the decision of pursuing the ACT, consider these points:

  • Don’t rely on the PSAT alone: take a full-length SAT practice test to see if those results outpace current ACT practice tests as well.
  • Don’t take test-switching lightly. As much as core material and strategies overlap, there is enough difference in preparation for the tests that switching from ACT to SAT could set students back a few weeks or months as they adapt to a new structure and new test-specific strategies.

Students will perform differently on the ACT vs. SAT due to different timing and content standards, and finding the right test is an important part of the process. We take test selection very seriously and are happy to discuss any and all questions on this matter. Reach out to your Director with questions about test strategy and if you’d like to discuss scores more in-depth.