Announcements: Strategies and Stories

TSI Guides – downloadable PDF

Below is a downloadable link for the TSI Guides, ordered like they will be on the test and edited to improve the flow and transition from one subject to the next. It is free for download, but please consider giving a tax-deductible donation the The Second Home School for Personalized Learning (T2HS – my nonprofit high school project).

TSI Guides (2018)

What to Expect on the TSI Math Section: A Guide

You’ve done it! The final section of the TSI. After all of that hard work, you get to do calculations, algebra, and geometry. Yay. This section holds nothing that you haven’t seen before, although it may have been a while since you have seen it. You won’t be able to bring your favorite calculator, but there is an on-screen calculator you can use and plenty of scratch paper. I recommend being at least a little mathematically independent from it because it only has a few functions and may have a slight learning curve attached to it. You will need a score of 351 to pass, which, once again, means that you can safely miss between 1-3 questions.

The TSI Math tests you on Algebra I and II, Geometry, and some Statistics, only probability and measures of central tendency. You will see graphs, charts, linear, quadratic, exponential, square root, and rational functions, systems of equations, rational functions, algebraic expressions and equations, and inequalities. Some questions are “regular” math problems and a lot are word problems, and you will have to solve or evaluate, simplify, translate from word to math, and match graphs with their equations.

Since all questions are multiple choice, you do have the option of solving some of them either the “right way” or “backwards,” meaning you can plug the answers into the equation and check if it works out. Some of them will require you to solve them the “right way” and others are more flexible, but there are one or two problems that can only be solved by referring to the answers. Factoring and FOILing, or polynomial multiplication, are essential skills to know how to do well. You can use the answers to any factoring or FOILing problem to help clue you in on what the correct answer might look like, but there may be several problems where you will have to find the solution by factoring correctly.

The word problems are extra difficult to since you will be looking at them on a computer and there is no option to highlight or mark on them, so it’s best to go over strategies that will help you “pull” important information from them, like defining each variable and writing the corresponding value next to it or just writing each number with a description of what it means nearby. For the graphing problems you may not need to draw the whole graph out on your scratch paper, but it may be helpful to use the eraser end of your pencil to help you count or line up things on the screen.

Finally, remember that you might be pretty tired after testing in all of the sections, so write and calculate carefully. Go ahead and breaks between a certain number or questions or even each question since they will be fairly randomized, you will have to recall a new set of information each time, and you won’t get to skip and return to it later. The process of elimination and estimating are great ways to narrow down and cancel out bad answers and make taking an educated guess easier, if you need to do that. Watch carefully for answers that look very similar because they might only differ by a sign change.  Math can sometimes be the “downfall” of student test scores, but it doesn’t have to be for you. I consider math to be a different language, so if you have any types of strategies for learning languages, like repetition and review, flash cards for formulas, and application of processes, use them to help solidify your working knowledge of it. There are many worksheets all over the internet that pertain to certain math processes, so check some out if you are wanting more practice. It’s not a race, so work at your own pace. Best of luck!

How to Make the TSI Reading Section Manageable: A Guide

Ready? Here’s the first section: Reading. This is a section full of various fiction and non-fiction passages and can be fairly tricky if you aren’t prepared to answer a variety of detailed and broad questions. Considering it’s the starting point, it’s also easy to. become exhausted because of the various subjects you will need to read about and interpret.
For this section, you will have 20 multiple choice questions and several passages to read, some of which are reoccurring, so it helps to read slowly and carefully. Passing TSI Reading scores range from 351 to 390 with each question being weighted, so we are aiming to only get one to three questions incorrect. That seems like it could be a bit anxiety-inducing, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right strategies, approach, and inner voice, it’s manageable.
The first key thing to keep in mind is the benefit of pretending like you are reading passage as if you know nothing about the subject or story at all. Make sure to also read each word that is actually printed from the author’s perspective; try to mimic their tone and feel what they might have felt when they wrote about the subject at hand while reading their words. Be prepared to use context clues to try to understand what message the author is trying to convey because you will read everything from modern-day writers to not-so-recent-authors. In addition to that, make sure that you are paying close attention to the word choice of the author and being curious as to why they may have chosen the words they did. This can make the reading more enjoyable, especially since the several of the passages are informative or from classic literature.
Make sure the main idea of the passage and the author’s purpose is clear to you before you move on to the question below it. There are a few very general main idea and purpose questions you will need to answer, but there will be answers that, while true, are not relevant to what the author has talked about or will only mention a singular thing that the author talked about rather than the entire topic. However, there are occasions where the question will request that you pull a specific detail out of the passage and match it with one of the answers.
Answering some of the questions does not always involve such basic strategies. There are questions that will ask you to compare two passages from different authors and deduce what both authors may agree or disagree upon when no clues are explicitly given. You might also have to infer information that an author might follow up with, what they are trying to elude to based on what they have already written, or what they may mean by a certain phrase or word. Other times, you may have to answer questions about the author’s writing strategies versus just the content of the passage or passages.
So, take your time to absorb the writing styles, content, and sentence structure and vocabulary. Since you will be taking the writing section next, it would be beneficial to pay close attention to the grammar and punctuation of the passages you will be reading so that you can transfer that same structure and conveying of information over to the next section. You can’t skip questions, so if you encounter one with an answer that’s not too obvious or you are torn between two answer choices, pick the best one and move on to the next passage and question. Unfortunately, this being a computer-based test means that you can’t mark up or highlight parts of the passages, but you will have scratch paper available to make notes as you read. Each passage is pretty short, so you shouldn’t have so much stuff written that it will be hard to keep track of. Try to find some story excerpts online and see if after reading them, you can point out the main idea, purpose, and understand all of the vocabulary. Best of luck!

What to Know for the TSI Writing Section: A Guide

Hello again! It’s time to think about the writing section of the TSI. None of my students ever really worried about this section because they found it “easy,” but in case you don’t want to leave things to chance, let’s check out what you will need to know.

First, it contains 20 multiple choice questions and is right before you write the accompanying essay. If you aren’t able to score a 6 on the essay, then you can earn a multiple choice score of at least 350 and an essay score of 5 or a multiple choice score of at least 363 and an essay score of 4 and still pass the entire section. Remember, the TSI scores range from 351 to 390 and each question is weighted, so we can safely say one to three questions is a safe bet. But let’s not think about it like that. Let’s show the test what we know.
Key things to do here are to read carefully. CAREFULLY. You want to make sure that you are reading each word as it appears in the text, not as it should appear or what sounds correct. The answer choices may only differ by one punctuation mark, so check out every answer choice before deciding which one to answer. Remember, it is not timed, but you can’t return to a question, so you will need to give each answer a thorough vetting. Yes, there is a NO CHANGE option and it will be a valid answer choice at times.

When reading the answer choices, I utilize “pauses” (one beat) and “full stops” (two beats) to help me “hear” how commas and periods, respectively, would sound; I give semi-colons a “three-quarters stop,” something in between a pause and a full stop. Test each answer choice because one might sound good but the next might sound better. You aren’t going to be able to read anything aloud as you will most likely be testing alongside other testers (even whisper reading can be distracting to some testers), but try to really hear yourself reading it in your head, or even pick out a favorite musician, actor, other celebrity, character, or cool person in your life to read it to you. This might seem silly, but I’m sure it will take the edge off having to deal with the test in the first place.

There are times when the exam will ask you to replace, rewrite, or insert a sentence or phrase. Although we can normally get away with just reading the sentences or phrases that have been marked for editing, we will need to have some context clues because a couple of the answer choices will make sense independently of them. For gathering context clues, a good start is to read the sentence right before and the sentence right after what is to be edited, a better idea is to read the entire paragraph that contains it, and the best way to gather the most clues is to go ahead and read the entire passage. Some of the passages are fairly interesting, too.

To close, take your time in working through this section. Since the essay is next, perhaps your reading can give you some ideas or warm your brain up to the abstract and philosophical thinking and essay formatting required for it. The same as before, if you encounter a question that you aren’t sure how to answer, it’s best for your stress level to settle on the answer you think is best so that you have plenty of brain power left heading into the essay. Feel free to rewrite answer choices and edits on the scratch paper provided. You still CAN retest if you need to within a short time frame, but you’d have to take both the multiple choice and essay sections together, so let’s get both of them knocked out at once. For practice, look up some editing or proofreading games online or try typing or writing random sentences and reconfigure them by playing with punctuation and other grammar essentials. Best of luck!

How to Pass the TSI Essay With Ease: A Guide

Hello! Looks like you’re going to take the TSI. The experience can be dreadful or even enjoyable, but it depends on how you approach it and how prepared you are. Yes, it is fairly long if you take all parts on the same day, and the essay comes after the reading and writing sections, so after this, you STILL have the math section. Regardless of how much you will be taking that day, there are some ways that will help you get through the essay with a low amount of stress.

Perhaps you have looked at the College Board’s sample essays. Those 7 and 8 earning essays are kind of scary, like the person is an “encyclopedia” as some of my other students have said. I feel the same way. I’m not expecting you to get a 7 or 8 because all you need to do is show the scoring software (yes, a computer program scores your essay) that you can form a good argument with solid examples, use decent grammar and vocabulary, and pass, and passing is either a score of 5 or a 363 on the writing and a score of 4 on the essay.

If you haven’t realized it, the TSI will ask you to make an argument supporting one side of philosophical debate. Though the topics can be hard to argue because they are typically asking you to make black and white a somewhat grey topic, they are not judging you based on which argument you need to make; rather, they are looking at HOW you support your argument with examples, evidence, and appropriate sentence structure. My recommendation is to, first, use the scratch paper provided to make a two-column list or other graphic organizer (venn diagram, mind map, etc.) to help you literally see and determine which side of the debate will be easiest to argue. Once you figure out which side has the strongest evidence, or even which you prefer to argue, then you can start shaping your content.

As far as essay structure goes, a 4 or 5 paragraph essay depending on how many points you will want to argue is a good start. You will need an intro, two or three body paragraphs and a conclusion, very similar to the basic 5-paragraph essay format you’ve used in school before. The intro hooks the reader into the topic by initially talking about it in broad terms and then siphoning it down to the thesis. The thesis lets the reader know which side of the debate you are taking and why, so this is where you take charge of your argument with confidence. Each body paragraph discusses one of the points you are going to argue, which you will introduce in the first topic sentence and close out at the end of the paragraph. The conclusion wraps up the whole thing by paraphrasing the thesis first, then summarizing the topic sentences from the body paragraphs, and finally, closing out with a somewhat philosophical statement that gets the reader to continue thinking about your side of the debate. This essay is going to end up being 300 to 600 words, so if you pick solid examples and make sure you are very clear in your explanations of things, it won’t hard to reach.

The body paragraphs are the meat of the essay around which your intro and conclusion will be formed; however, feel free to start with which ever paragraph is easiest. In order to pass this exam with a 5 or 6, you will need at least two, strong examples that back up your side of the debate. Fortunately, the examples can come from a variety of sources like fiction or non-fiction books, your personal life, a celebrity or public figure, or even a play or a movie that aren’t necessarily well-known. You can even make up something if you have to, as long as it is analogous to your side of the debate (I only recommend this as a last resort in case you brain fart or something). The first sentence will tell the reader which point you are going to make, the sentences in the middle will tell the story or explain the example you picked, and the last sentence will wrap up the paragraph with a conclusive, argument benefitting statement about the entire example. If you have solid examples, then you won’t need to make any circular arguments. In fact, never make a circular argument, EVER. That’s when you say something like, “The bird is well-know because it is talked about a lot and that’s why it is well-known.” Do not do this.

My final tips are to make sure that your grammar, sentence structure, spelling are at least decent and don’t take away from the argument you are trying to make; a few errors are not going to tank your score and you won’t have a dictionary or other resource available to you, so if you encounter something you are not sure about, it’s best for your stress level to let it be as you have typed it and move on to the next item. Also, use all of the scratch paper you need. Once you decide on a side of the debate to argue, just start. The cool thing about the TSI is that you CAN retest if you need to within a short time frame, and although that is not the goal and you would have to pay for it again, you don’t need to be extra stressed with worrying that it will be your only shot. The last things to do are to rescan your essay for clarity and redundancy and other small errors you may have missed initially. See if you can change some of your wording to make it sound “better” or use “bigger words,” but it doesn’t have to sound like a scholar wrote it. If you get a chance, practice with an essay topic beforehand so you can start putting these strategies into place. Best of luck!

Test Taking Tips for Tackling Content and Anxiety

I was one to get super nervous on tests to where it would affect my ability to recall information, so it has been something that has bothered me to see it in my students. I’ve noticed that a couple of processes have really helped me and my students prepare and “feel” prepared for their exams. If a student has mainly content-recall issues, I not only recommend doing several practice problems of the material they are having trouble with, but I also recommend reviewing notes and formulas frequently the day before and the day of the test as follows:

1. Review for 10-15 minutes after school.
2. Review for 10-15 minutes right before bed.
3. Wake up 10-15 minutes earlier the next morning and review for 10-15 minutes.

Studies and my own personal experiments show that “sleeping on” information gives the brain a chance to process it and, just as importantly, rest, so when reviewing the material again in the morning, a lot of the time, it seems way simpler and almost “too easy.”

I also found that “talking myself down” out of my anxiety during tests helped me to keep my head clear enough so that I can calculate and write efficiently. The thought process I use is based in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which, to sum it up, involves reprogramming the brain out of negative though patterns. CBT does a lot of digging and uncovers the core beliefs at the root of the anxiety issue, but my process is more simplified; I “keep it between me and the test,” which means that I see the exam as a measurement of what information I can recall and process, not as a measurement of my self-worth, my value to someone else, or an indication of my holistic intelligence.

When I notice that I get anxious, a dialogue that I have with myself might look like this:

1. Are you very nervous? Yeah, I can’t wait to see how this goes.
2. Why are you so nervous? Well, I want to do really well on this assessment.
3. Why is it important that you do well? I did well on my last assessments and I would feel silly if I did worse on this one.
5. Is there anything else that is upsetting you? Yeah, I don’t think this webinar gave me all of the information I need.
6. What could you do if you don’t have the information? I can look up a few things before I start writing.
7. What if it is an open-ended question? Oh, I don’t want to put something stupid and “fluffy,” but I think I have some really good ideas and philosophies about this topic that I am hoping will be well-received. I should explain my point as well as possible regardless.
8. What if they don’t like your answers? Well, I am still learning about this topic. Perhaps at a later date, I can retake my assessment or show improvement on another one.
9. What if you score lower on this assessment than your last assessments? Haha, this one is a bit harder than the last ones! I will not be angry with myself if I don’t do as well. I will just put forth my best effort and see what happens.

It does take a bit of practice and more than a couple of positive thoughts to really start becoming a good habit, and it can also be very difficult for someone with severe anxiety, but relieving myself of unnecessary worry about “being judged” on assessments or even my past performances has freed me from a lot of extra stress and improved my outlook on life and how I see myself as a person. I would be more than happy to direct you to more information about CBT or sit down and have a mock self-dialogue with you or your student and start the process of decreasing negative self-talk.

Escalada Ed’s first blog feature

I subscribe to HelpGrowUSA because their tips are quick and helpful and sent a quick reply to the founder, Beth Fisher, after she asked for any contributions small business owners could make to her blog. I gave her a run down of my experience and trials in building my business, and she asked me to expand on my thoughts and edited it for her blog. The full story is linked below.


I have a long-term student who I used to help with a college writing class. In every paper – these were short story analyses – she would say something like, “The author take us on a journey in the day of the life of…” I used to giggle at this because even a confrontation at the neighborhood park would be a “journey.” So now, everything I hear or see the word “journey,” I think of her and her papers and giggle to myself.

And before, when I heard the word “journey,” I thought of “Don’t Stop Believing.” At least now I won’t have to worry about having the sudden urge to sing at random.


I am working on obtaining a few certifications from the National Tutoring Association, the nation’s largest tutoring association. I am learning a few things that will be helpful in making my tutoring services more efficient and effective for my students.

Adding Tutors

The next step is adding tutors who can work on other subjects that I am not well-versed in, that way, Escalada Ed can be a more resourceful entity. They are listed on the “Affiliate Tutors” page.


Moving over to WordPress from