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While completing my Masters in Astronomy from Yale, I worked with many students who believed that they were just "not good at math", and they let that belief keep them from doing well not just in their math courses, but in the sciences as well. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that math is something you just can or can't do. While it comes more naturally to some than other, it's a skill that is learned with practice, patience, and the right support. The same is true for standardized tests like the SAT and the GRE. You have to learn how to take a standardized test as much as you need to learn the actual material you're being tested on, and that is something I try to focus on with my students. In my spare time, I am teaching myself how to bake (for which the math skills come in very useful) - my latest creation is home-made donuts with a chocolate-chili filling!

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Sarah’s Qualifications

Education & Certification

Undergraduate Degree: Carnegie Mellon University - Bachelors, Physics

Graduate Degree: Yale University - Masters, Astronomy

Test Scores

SAT Composite: 2310

SAT Math: 790

SAT Verbal: 800

SAT Writing: 720

GRE Quantitative: 169

GRE Verbal: 170


Baking, board games, and eating delicious food

Q & A

What is your teaching philosophy?

My teaching philosophy is that no one is fundamentally "bad" at any subject. Everyone has subjects they struggle with and some that come naturally. I want all of my students to leave their sessions feeling less daunted and intimidated by the material, so that next time they hit a tough problem, they'll work through it instead of giving up.

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

In a first session with a student, my goal is to get to know the student and how they feel about the material. First, I'll talk with them to get a sense about how they feel about the class/test - are they interested but struggling, bored, or intimidated? Then I like to ask them what they think they're strengths and weaknesses are, and what they think they need the most help on. Finally, I like to give them a diagnostic set of questions of material they've already learned in the class or that they'll see on the standardized test, so I can see how they work through problems and any general trends in their roadblocks. I always end my first session with a rough lesson plan for future lessons.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

The best way to learn is to teach. Every time a student asks "is that answer right?” I ask them to explain their answer to me, every single step. If they can't explain it beyond "because that's what the textbook says to do", they don't really know the concept. Often students make breakthroughs while talking through their own work, and it teaches them to spot their own mistakes without me pointing them out.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

Students lose motivation for primarily two reasons - 1) they don't see the value in the material or 2) they believe they are simply incapable of succeeding. If they don't see the value, I try to tie it back to real life. Arithmetic seems pointless until you and five friends are at a restaurant trying to figure out how much each person owes for tax & tip. As for students who think they're inherently doomed to failure, they need to be reminded that everyone struggles at something. I sometimes talk with students about my struggles with history and biology because it's important to remember that everyone has weak points. We just can't let ourselves believe that there's nothing we can do about it. I find it helpful to take the attention off of grades and getting the "correct answer" and instead focus the student on understanding and being comfortable with individual concepts.

If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?

It's important to figure out why they're struggling. If a student is overwhelmed by all the equations tied up in physics concept, remove the math and talk about thought experiments. If they struggle with a difficult math concept, I try to find word problems that make the content more approachable and break down the concept into separate steps. It's also very important to remind students that learning isn't about getting a concept right away, but about practice and repetition, which builds confidence over time.

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