Monday, April 9, 2012

My Secret to Getting Into Bronx Science

My middle school guidance counselor came walking through the door. In her hand were a stack of white envelopes. It didn’t take a genius to figure out her purpose for interrupting the class; which by the way was Spanish class at the time, so I didn’t mind much. You could feel the tension in the air rise. Everyone was on the edges of their seats, their hearts pounding with expectation. We’ve been waiting since October for this very day, February 29th. Today was the day that would determine the next four years of our lives; the day of our high school results. Before the counselor passed out the envelopes, she gave distinct instructions to not open it until we got home. However, everyone knew that we wouldn’t – no, we couldn’t wait. I mean I knew I didn’t have the will power to at least. As I held that envelope in my hand, I thought back to the summer before; to the time before everything started.

“You know high school isn’t that big of a deal, right?” My dad tried to convince me.

But it was. It is! Everyone told me, high school is just another part of life. They just didn’t understand. High school is more than that. It’s where I’ll be for the next four years of my life; four long years. It’s where I’ll prepare the four years after that; maybe even eight years. High school decides my college. And college decides my career. And my career will decide the rest of my life. It’s one big chain of events. I had to pass the SHSAT. I had to get into a specialized high school!

“Dad, I’m going to get into a specialized high school!” I said with determination.
My dad only started to chuckle, “But do you even know where to start?”

That’s where I was stuck. Several of my friends were going to some sort of tutoring program at the time. It sounded like a good idea. It probably is. But how could I afford that?! It’s true, I’m not exactly poor, and my dad makes a nice amount of money, I suppose. However, I couldn’t have possibly asked for tutoring. It costs too much. I mean there had to be other ways to prepare; other methods of studying! And there is.

“Haha, you’re lucky I’m you dad,” He told me with a cocky smile, “Follow my plan, and you’re sure to get into one of the top schools.”

He told me about his plan with a confidence anyone could believe in. That’s what I loved about my dad. He could say the most brilliant things in such a powerful way that could catch your attention in an instant. (Then again, he could also say the stupidest things in such a way as well). I put all my faith and strength into his plan; having full belief in my dad the whole way through. Well, to be honest, I didn’t have a clue of what to do otherwise.
All throughout middle school, everyone looked down on my intelligence. Nobody believed I could get into even one of the specialized high schools. Everyone laughed when I told them about my desire to make it to one of the 'big' schools. I was determined to prove them wrong. I was determined to do whatever it took to get into a specialized high school!
One problem… I only had one summer to prepare. Although, I was starting to feel the stress, I started the first steps of my dad’s plan. I admit it was difficult. The very first thing I remember him making me do was take one practice test. To be honest, I didn’t get a very high score; I had about half of the questions wrong. I knew I sucked, but I didn’t think I sucked that badly! I started to panic. How the hell was I supposed to become specialized high school worthy in just two months?! There are people who study for years before the actual test, and I actually planned to get ready in two months? I had just about lost all hope. That’s when I thought back to the last few school days before summer began. I told everyone that I would make it to one of the top schools. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but what I did know was that my words were not going to become an empty promise. I couldn’t give up before I barely started!

“It’s always tough in the beginning,” my dad always told me, “But once you get past the first stages, the end result will be well worth the work.”

That first practice test was just to see where I was at. It gave me a good idea of how much I needed to work on; what I need to work on. From the results of my first practice test, my dad evaluated my weaknesses. I was struggling in geometry and linear functions. What I needed to work on most, though, was the speed at which I could solve each problem. For the English section, I recognized that I needed help in the scrambled paragraphs.

The next step in my dad’s “ultimate plan” was to practice problems that I had trouble in; well, problems of everything in general. For English, it’s really hard to say what you should aim for when practicing. Math on the other hand, is a one way street. It’s something you can easily study; giving you almost guaranteed points.
With this, my dad and I decided to drill myself in the math part of the SHSAT. For this, repetition was the key to my success. But what was the best way to practice repetition? That’s when my dad found this ingenious website. And that website would be IXL. I have to give due credit to this website because it might have very well been a crucial factor in getting me into a specialized high school.
IXL is a math-based website that has over 2,000 skills to learn and practice from. It ranges from kindergarten to eighth grade level math. What I love most is that it only costs a membership fee of about $10 dollars a month! I really liked this website because it helped me increase the rate at which I could solve problems. Not only did it increase my speed, but it also helped freshen up on my fundamentals. The SHSAT tests you on some advanced level questions, but it also includes questions you might have learned in elementary school. Though you may know how to solve those elementary questions, the faster you can get through them, the better. IXL helped out a lot in that department. Since the type of questions available has a wide range of levels, I was able to hone my math capabilities.
My dad gave me a list of topics to drill myself on. For the entire first month of the summer vacation, I spent hours each day working on IXL. I mostly worked in the categories I had most trouble in. Once I became skilled in answering those, I began working on increasing my speed of solving other types of math questions; mostly algebra because that seemed to be a major topic on the SHSAT. During this month, I practice about 5,000 to 7,000 math problems each week on IXL.
After honing my math skills, I started to work on the English. I studied transitional words. I practiced different scrambled paragraph questions. Unfortunately, there’s no website that can help you practice English skills like scrambled paragraphs and such. Or at least, I wasn’t able to find one.
The first month of summer vacation seemed to fly by quickly though. Time was running short. The last thing I could do to prepare for the SHSAT was to take simulated tests. I bought a few of those study books for the SHSAT, and each day I took around one to two practice tests. I continued to do so until the very last few days of my summer vacation. This helped me to prepare myself for the actual test. It allowed me to become familiar to the format of the test. It also helped me get used to sitting still for two hours (I don’t know about you, but staying in one place for too long can make me go crazy!).

My entire summer was dedicated to studying. Now that I look at it, my dad’s entire “master plan” can be simplified to three easy steps.
  1. Take one practice tests to evaluate your weaknesses 
  2. Drill yourself in various questions that help strengthen your weak areas and increase your question solving rate. 
  3. Simulate yourself in multiple SHSAT practice test
Going back to the day I received my results, I can't express how happy I was. It was quite hilarious really. They always tell you not to open the envelope until you get home. Ha! As if anyone could wait that long. And being the goody-goody that I am, I didn’t open it. However, since I’m also a smarty-pants, I found a way to bend around that ‘don’t open until you’re home’ rule! I just looked at the back of the envelope, and saw through the paper (Haha. Ingenious, no?). When I tried looking at mine, I saw the “B” and the “R” and the “O”. Since I have like no confidence in myself whatsoever, I didn’t think I could make it into the “second” best (second is such an over rated term) high school. Thus, I thought I got into Brooklyn Technical High school. Not saying there’s anything wrong with Brooklyn Tech. I mean it’s a specialized high school nonetheless, and it respected. I’m just saying Bronx Science is more favorable (hee hee ;D). But then I realized, “Wait! This word is too short be Brooklyn,” so I kept trying to read through my envelope. (I swear, you do not know how badly I wished I had x-ray vision at the moment.) It was Bronx. The paper said Bronx. I was going to Bronx Science! I started freaking out, and kept reading it over and over again. It was crazy. I couldn’t believe it. If I wasn’t in school, I think I might have started crying. The feeling of knowing all your hard work paid off is probably the one of the greatest things a person could ever experience.

“Genius is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent perspiration.”