Academics

We found 139 articles

What’s the difference between stiff, strong, and tough?
Though the average person might think the words stiff, strong, and tough mean the same thing, engineers know that they in fact have very different meanings. Learning the difference between these terms will help you sound like a pro when discussing material properties. 
The role of insurance and common threats in health insurance markets
Growing up, the GEICO Gecko and Allstate’s Mayhem were frequent fixtures of TV nights with my family. “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance” and “You’re in good hands” were slogans I knew for as long as I could remember. Clearly, the services these companies were selling – different types of insurance – were marketed as taking ...
How to solve an empirical formula problem
In this blog post, we will review how to determine the empirical formula of a compound using the mass percentages of the elements from which it is formed.
Quantum numbers
In this blog post, we explore the four quantum numbers, which allow us to describe the properties of each electron within an atom. According to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, no two electrons can share the same combination of quantum numbers. A carbon atom has six electrons, for example, and each of these electrons can be described by one of six ...
A painless introduction to VSEPR theory
Today we will discuss VSEPR (pronounced “vesper”), which stands for valence-shell electron-pair repulsion. The basis of VSEPR is that the electrons in bonds and lone pairs repel each other. To minimize the instability that results from these repulsions, a molecule will adopt the shape that places electron groups as far apart as possible. VSEPR ...
A language study routine that actually works
So you're studying a new language, and you've been told that you need to make time to review and study vocabulary regularly. That makes sense. You tell yourself you'll do it. You may even make some flashcards and spend time drilling them two or three times early in the semester when you are full of good intentions. But if you're like me, the ...
How to read legal statutes like a lawyer
Legal statutes can be a daunting task. Statutes are filled with legalese, numerical codes, and several headers that can make you feel stuck in a labyrinth of law. However, have no fear! Following these simple steps can turn that labyrinth of written statutes into a nice roadmap and summary of any legal statute. 
So you want to be an engineer...but don’t have a degree in engineering
I was getting my degree in environmental science, at a school without an engineering program, when I realized I wanted to be an engineer. Engineering first called to me in Cambodia, home to the magnificent Angkor Wat complex of temples. The Angkor people constructed a series of motes and irrigation systems at a scale that rivals that of many ...
Tips for success in organic chemistry courses
Organic chemistry is historically considered a “weed-out” class for pre-medical students and often the cause of much frustration for students. After spending 3 years during college serving as a teaching assistant and tutor for organic chemistry courses at my undergraduate university, here are some tips for studying for your organic chemistry ...
Think quickly: can you ace the world's shortest intelligence test?
Below is the world's shortest intelligence test. See how many questions you can answer!
Ask the right questions: how to know what you don't know you don't know
Have an assignment due tomorrow, and have no idea where to even start? In office hours or class and so lost that you don't even know what your question is? No matter the context of your confusion, you're not alone! 
The finals crunch: a roadmap to working smarter, not harder
It’s the end of term, and your grade comes down to just one score: the final exam. On top of that, you’ve got a whole term’s worth of material to review! Fret not — we’ve all been there. Here’s how to make the best of it!  
Reading is hard. But it doesn’t have to be.
There is no denying it. In the age of the attention economy, bright stimulating screens, and exhausting schedules it is very hard to sit down and read with focus. Whether we are talking about a novel for English class, a source for AP U.S. History, or that dense SAT Reading passage from the Federalist Papers, it is hard to truly dig in and read ...
Tips for getting a 4.0 in engineering
College is intimidating enough as is without overworking yourself in pursuit of a perfect GPA. However, if you have decided that graduating with a 4.0 is a top priority for you, here are some tips that helped me achieve a 4.0 in engineering.
What makes a good descriptor?
Cliche is natural; originality, not so much. Pre-packaged phrases like “bring to the table,” “at the end of the day,” or “read between the lines” are overused and now lack their meaning, becoming a kind of automatic thinking, according to George Orwell. But why? Because triggering automatic thinking in a listener is helpful to a speaker if he or ...
How to balance redox reactions in acidic and basic solutions
Balancing redox reactions is an essential skill for the Chemical and Physical Foundations section of the MCAT, the GRE Chemistry Subject Test, and the AP Chemistry Exam. Today, we will learn how to use the half-cell method for balancing redox reactions in acidic and basic solutions. We will first balance a redox reaction in acidic solution, then ...
Hormones of the female reproductive system
The female reproductive system can at times feel like a difficult jumble of hormones that all seem to be related, but fluctuate in unpredictable ways. To make sense of the particularities of the female reproductive system, especially for exams like the MCAT, it is important to not only know what hormones are involved, but also to understand what ...
Gametogenesis and spermatogenesis and oogenesis, oh my!
Meiosis is one of those processes that we all learned about in high school biology as a deceptively simple concept. You take the diploid cell, divide it twice, and it becomes four haploid gametes that are each capable of participating in fertilization. Easy, right?
How to use root words to learn vocabulary
Retaining new English vocabulary is challenging, whether you’re learning English for the first time or studying for standardized tests like the SAT or GRE. The challenge arises, in part, from the sheer volume of words in English. English’s massive lexicon comes from words in several other languages, and learning some of these words—more often ...
The Intermediate Value Theorem explained by everyday life
Calculus can be tough stuff. Calc AB was the first AP class I ever took in high school, and though I love the subject now, I certainly didn’t love it when I was first struggling with limits or with the chain rule for derivatives.
Pituitary gland hormones made simple
What is the pituitary gland? Even though the pituitary gland is about the size of a pea, it plays a very important role in regulating a lot of our body’s endocrine functions. Located in an area known as the sella turcica at the base of the brain and suspended from the hypothalamus by a stalk, the pituitary gland consists of two parts: the ...
The middle school writers’ workshop: 3 steps to a great literary essay outline
Writing literary essays can be scary. Learning how to analyze texts through writing is one of the most challenging but fundamental skills that you’ll need in your academic career. Particularly for younger students, this task can be daunting. However, if you follow a few simple steps, it doesn’t have to be!
How to write more clearly in six steps
Whether you’re writing a medical school admissions essay, a high school book report, a college research paper, or a personal statement for graduate school, clarity is key. But writing clearly is trickier than it looks. In my ten years of experience as a writing teacher and tutor, I’ve found that there are a few steps that students can take to more ...
Understanding a confusion matrix
One of the major tasks in machine learning and statistical testing is classification. In classification problems, we use a training set of labeled data to train our model to classify an unlabeled observation into one category or another. At the simplest level, this method uses observable data to make a related yes-or-no classification (like: will ...
Five quick and easy English words to elevate your writing
Anyone studying English will at one point or another recognize that the language is quite a hodgepodge. Centuries of outside contact – from Viking and Norman invasions to importations of Latin during the Renaissance – led to what would become the rich vocabulary of Modern English. But what should a savvy writer do with so much variation when ...
I just want to be a doctor, so does organic chemistry really matter?
Imagine: you’ve made it through your first semester or two of undergrad and weathered all the storms that come with this transition. And, now you find yourself facing a dreaded academic giant that has stricken fear in the hearts of scores of pre-medical students. A chemistry course unlike any other. If you are anything like most pre-medical ...
A beginner’s guide to analyzing historical documents
Most high school and college-level history courses will require that you read, interpret, and analyze a document or set of documents from the past—otherwise known as primary sources. In this post, I will provide five basic questions that you should ask about your document(s) that will kickstart your thinking about the past and serve as a starting ...
Working with lenses and mirrors: how to draw a ray diagram
Ray diagrams can look intimidating, but they don’t have to be! In this blog post, we will tackle five examples of ray diagrams.
Where do Taylor series come from and why do we learn about them?
Taylor series can often seem a bit mysterious the first time that we learn about them. The formula for the Taylor series of a function f(x) around a point x=a is given by
But what is “dx” really? Calculus terms explained
The symbol “dx” comes up everywhere in calculus. For example:
Pareto efficient allocations and fairness in economics
A very important concept when it comes to thinking about markets in economics is the idea of Pareto efficiency. An allocation of resources is Pareto efficient if it is not possible to make anyone better off without making someone else worse off.
The music of Mandarin: learning the five tones of the language
Learning Chinese is challenging but fun! Even the parts that require repetitive practice can be enjoyable with the right framework and point-of-view.
Learning the basics of Game Theory
Imagine that you and a friend are going to the movies. You like comedies more than action movies, while your friend likes action movies a lot more than comedies. If you go to see a movie alone, however, you’re probably not going to have as much fun, regardless of what type of movie you see. What is the optimal behavior for each person in this ...
Homonyms
English is one of the languages in which spelling is a big deal. Spelling bees were created in English, and the concept is not present in other languages in which words are more often pronounced just like they look. In English, we have words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings and spellings (homophones). We also have a lot of ...
Grammar: one to 1
When learning a new language, students almost always begin with the alphabet and numbers. We use letters, of course, to form words, which form sentences that express ideas of varying complexity in a form that people who read this written language can understand. Numbers designate a different kind of language, one that conveys equations and ...
Betwixt and between: difficult grammar rules explained
English is not the easiest language to learn. This may be because of the many exceptions to its rules or because the same combinations of letters can be pronounced in many different ways. English also has one of the largest vocabularies of any recorded language, which means English speakers can say what they mean in a lot of different ways, but ...
Checking your answers in physics
Having worked through a long physics problem, you finally have an answer. How do you know if it’s right and all that work wasn’t for naught? In this post, I will cover a few quick strategies that can help rule out wrong answers.
How to survive a proof-based math class
Probably the most common challenge that I see my students struggle with is understanding and writing out mathematical proofs. Although most higher-level college math and computer science courses rely heavily on proofs, there aren’t many courses that really prepare students before they’re thrown off the deep end. I wanted to discuss some tips and ...
An application of calculus: finding optimal road networks
Suppose that we have many towns spread across the country and we are trying to connect them with a network of roads. If we would like to do so by laying as little road as possible, how do we do it? In this blog post, we will use Calculus to tackle a special case of this optimization problem.
Understanding elasticity of demand in economics
You may have heard in your econ class about a good’s elasticity of demand, or about “elastic” or “inelastic” goods. Consumers’ elasticity of demand is just a fancy way economists talk about how sensitive people are to changes in a good’s price.
Which is bigger?: Set cardinality, injective functions, and bijections
Comparing finite set sizes, or cardinalities, is one of the first things we learn how to do in math. From a young age, we can answer questions like “Do you see more dogs or cats?” Your reasoning might sound like this: There are four dogs and two cats, and four is more than two, so there are more dogs than cats. In other words, the set of dogs is ...
What physics equation sheets can do for you, and what they  can’t
In your time taking physics courses, you will likely run into one that deals with equation sheets. These can be note cards or an entire sheet of paper, and anything that can fit on it is fair game and can be brought into a test. The natural reaction might be to try to cram and squeeze an entire textbook on those sheets using really, really tiny ...
So, what is chemical engineering for, anyway?
Chemical engineering is a comprehensive and vast field of study with far-reaching impact. I have been a practicing chemical engineer in the biotechnology industry for the last 5 years, and prior to that, I earned my doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Over the last 10 years, I have seen the evolution and ...
5 tips to improve your writing
I was recently helping someone with a comparative essay they had to write for school. This person did not like writing—a common enough state of affairs. They felt that they had no talent for it. The process frustrated them. I could see that they were struggling in part because they were trying to do everything at once (come up with ideas, write ...
How to write with clarity and brevity
1. Harshly criticize everything you write as you write it Ask yourself: is this sentence necessary? Could it be five words instead of ten without losing meaning? Is it a digression into something you find interesting useful, or a distraction?
The key to mastering mathematics? Quit memorizing.
There are many misconceptions when it comes to the subject of mathematics.  One of the most common myths I encounter is related to the way one approaches learning math. 
What is a thesis statement?
Every paper you write in college should have it. Sometimes professors call this a “thesis statement,” sometimes a “claim,” and sometimes they don’t really specify what it is. But it’s essential — and sometime elusive. But it shouldn’t be! 
A guide to limiting reactant problems... using sandwiches
An everyday limiting reactant problem You’re expecting company and totally forgot to go grocery shopping. What on earth will you feed your guests? Sandwiches! You have some ingredients to whip up some sandwiches. So, let’s assume you are going to go through with making these sandwiches. You need 2 slices of bread, 3 slices of meat (can’t be ...
Dimensional analysis: why the factor-label method is a lifesaver
Ever lost points on a test because you forgot to write the units? Rightfully so! Numbers have no meaning without their units of measurement. Two can be greater than 12. Three can equal one. This is all dependent on the unit of measurement being used. In your general chemistry class, you will encounter measurements of all sorts. These measurements ...
Electron configurations: a must know hack
Imagine this...you’re taking your general chemistry midterm and you’ve decided to shuffle through the exam and complete all the hard things first. You’ve totally underestimated how much time those problems were going to take you and now you have three minutes left to write the electron configuration of 10 elements. Untimed, this would be easy to ...
Formal charge: what they didn’t tell you in your chemistry class
Formal charge is the charge that a bonded atom would have if its bonding electrons were shared equally. Note:
Tips for writing an exam essay in 80 minutes
We've all been there.  The teacher is at the front of the classroom with a pile of blue books.  She begins handing them out.  You scrawl the name and date on the front and wait for her to start the timer.  As you open the first page, an overwhelming white page stares back at you.  And you panic. Luckily, there are ways to prepare for essay exams ...
An introduction to supply and demand
What is supply and demand? In economics, supply and demand is the relationship between the quantity of a commodity that producers wish to sell at various prices and the quantity that consumers wish to buy.  Though it is a seemingly straightforward relationship, in practical application it can become quite complicated.  In this blog, we will use an ...
The physics of martial arts
As a practicing biomedical engineer and martial artist, I belong to two communities that, at a glance, seem to conflict with one another; engineering requires rigorous thought and thorough validation of proposed innovations, while martial arts focuses on sensing subtle body motions and quickly reacting to one’s environment. When I first became ...
The power of anecdote: creative strategies for academic writing
Many of the freshmen I instruct at CUNY enter the first few sessions of my Expository Writing class wearing metaphorical top hats and monocles, armed with—and comforted by—the five-paragraph essay structure and other basic compositional building blocks. College-level essay writing, in their understanding, requires a stuffy, exacting formality—a ...
An introduction to choice theory: are humans really 'rational actors?'
If you are a student of economics, one of the first axioms you are instructed to adapt is that everyone should be considered a “rational actor.” What this means is that all people who take part in economic decisions and transactions are informed by self-interest and do so in a manner that maximizes their potential self-benefit.  This is essential ...
3 surprising reasons why Social Science prepares you for medicine
One morning during winter break, as I was sitting on my couch with a mug of coffee in hand, I remember reveling to my mom: “It’s incredible how much majoring in anthropology kept on proving itself useful in medical school.  Who would have known?” In college, I chose to major in a social science, anthropology—surely the less traditional route for ...
Introduction to physics: the language of the universe
 In elementary and middle school, we learn mathematics for the sake of mathematics, we are never told what mathematics can ultimately be used for or why mathematics is useful other than the fact that it can help us make change and do our taxes one day. What they should be telling you is that the laws of the universe are written in a language that ...
An introduction to proofs: the structure of induction
  Induction.  It's a mathematical concept that is no doubt familiar to any student taking an introductory proof class.  It is also a concept that can bring complex feelings---the excitement of learning a new cool proof technique, the fear of being asked to prove something "obvious", or the confusion of where to start.  
How to write a killer essay in 3 easy steps
We’ve all been there: staring at a blank document, practically able to feel the creeping imminence of our paper’s deadline. For so many of us, it’s really hard to sit down and actually channel our thoughts into a coherent form, let alone one that’s structured and based on an argument worthy of praise.
What are lymphocytes? A guide to your immune system
The immune system is designed to prevent disease and fight infection and is critical for human survival. It specializes in the ability to attack foreign microorganisms, but what stops your immune system from eating you alive? Given that cells of the immune system can essentially eat microorganisms, you may be wondering what mechanisms are in place ...
Solving the “I’m not good at math” problem
You’ve heard it before. Or you’ve said it. I’m not good at math. I hear it from seventh graders struggling with fractions, high school students preparing to take the SAT, friends at a restaurant when splitting a check, and even from parents assuring me that their child’s own difficulties are in fact genetic. And while I’ve heard it countless ...
Golden rules to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) analysis: part 1
Nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, or NMR, is a fundamental analytical technique used by chemists to determine the structure of organic compounds. Unlike other analytical techniques, such as infrared spectroscopy or mass spectroscopy, NMR allows for the complete interpretation of molecular structure and can be quantitative.
The top 3 reasons you should study Latin
There comes a moment in the careers of most middle- and high-schoolers learning Latin, and also among some college students considering it as a possibility when picking classes; a moment when they ask themselves (or their parents, or their teachers), “Why do I need to study this?”  After all, Latin is a dead language; unless you plan to become a ...
What is graduate level economics like?
  Is graduate level economics very different from undergraduate level economics? To many extents, undergraduate and graduate economics is similar, to many others very different. Their similarities reside in the fact that the core ideas and ways of approaching problems are the same. That is, because knowledge builds in layers, they share a common ...
How to solve kinematics problems: a guide to vectors
This article is the third chapter in a series on how to understand and approach kinematics problems. The first chapter covered position, velocity, and acceleration. The second chapter covered solving kinematics in one dimension Now we are going to take a quick detour into vectorland so that we’re ready to approach kinematics in two (and even ...
Two ways to determine equilibrium position in organic chemistry
A common exam question that comes up in both Orgo 1 and Orgo 2 requires students to determine a reaction’s equilibrium position. The question usually looks something like this: 
How to get oriented to organic chemistry: 7 pillars of the course
Organic Chemistry (OChem or Orgo) seems like a scary course. But it should not be if you know what to expect. This road map is your guide to orientate yourself to Orgo1. It teaches you about the main topics covered in Orgo1 in the typical order they are taught in class. So, take a breath and sit back as you read, skim, or view the images that ...
How do enzymes work? Catalytic strategies and models of substrate fit
In this post, we are going to do a brief Q and A to review what enzymes do and how they work. This post will be slightly beyond a basic introduction so it is probably most appropriate for a student who already has a sense of what enzymes are.
Orgo 1 strategies: protocol for acid-base problems
  Determining which of two molecules is more acidic is tricky if you haven’t yet organized those factors that influence acidity. The protocol is a method I learned from my mastermind Orgo 2 professor to keep these ideas in order when they come into conflict. Namely: Size is more important than Electronegativity, which is more important than ...
What is the phospholipid bilayer and what determines its fluidity?
All cells are surrounded by a cell membrane that forms a barrier between the cell and its surroundings. This membrane is often referred to as the phospholipid bilayer. As you can probably tell from the name, a phospholipid bilayer is made up of two layers of lipids. The fluidity of this membrane must be maintained within a certain range for the ...
An introduction to blood types: genotype, phenotype, inheritance, transfusion, and more!
What determines blood type? Contained within their cell membranes, some red blood cells have special glycolipids called A and B glycolipids. People with blood type A have the A glycolipid in their cell membranes, people with blood type B have the B glycolipid in their cell membranes, and people with blood type AB, have both glycolipids in their ...
Why does English borrow so many words from other languages?
The Canadian blogger and free-lance reviewer James Nicoll created the following epigram on the English language: "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
How to sketch any graph by eye
Equations in math are useful but they’re also kind of inefficient – for each x value, you have to do a separate calculation to figure out what y is. Graphs take that equation and turn it into a visual, something you can look at and immediately see what happens at different values of x, how the function changes, and more!
How do we classify mutations in biology?
In the previous post, we discussed some of the built in mechanisms that help to prevent mutations. Sometimes, however, mutations occur in spite of these systems. There are a few different ways that mutations are typically classified in an intro biology course and there are often overlaps between these categories. Here is a brief review of some of ...
What is moment and how do you calculate it?
When I tutor my physics students, I want them to understand the fundamentals of the concept, not just how to plug in numbers into an equation. I wished when I was learning physics, my teachers drew upon real life applications more, things we already understand about the world to help us really get it.
How to use probability trees to evaluate conditional probability
  If you’re majoring in economics, you will likely also need to take a statistics course.  One of the trickiest concepts is dealing with conditional probabilities.  In most classes, they teach you a fairly complicated equation known as Bayes’ Theorem. While this isn’t a hard formula to plug values into, it doesn’t give an intuitive understanding ...
5 key differences between American and British spelling conventions
Before America became a nation, the colonists who arrived to establish the country spoke English. From England. As there was not yet an authoritative source for how to spell words correctly in English, the colonists spoke English they were used to back home and wrote much the same way, using the way language was written in English literature as a ...
How to write an excellent history paper
I love the film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and I've seen it more times than I can count. It is about two teenagers on the brink of failing high school, unless they ace their final history exam. The Hollywood twist? The protagonists acquire a time machine that allows them to travel through different eras of history. Throughout the film, ...
Four mathematicians you should know
Math has changed a lot over the years. When most people think of math, they likely think of someone sitting quietly at a desk with a book or some paper. It’s an unmoving image. When we think of people who are good at math, we conjure up people who blaze through problems quickly and alone. They follow the rules in math and in life. But this is a ...
Preventing and repairing DNA mistakes during the cell cycle
If you are currently studying biology, you have probably learned that mistakes in DNA can create very big problems, including cancer. These DNA errors often (but not always) occur during replication. Whenever they occur, it is very important for the cell to have a set of systems in place to both prevent and repair these errors. In this blog post, ...
Tips for interpreting pedigree charts and understanding inheritance patterns!
Different traits are inherited in different ways. Many intro biology classes will expect you to be able to identify different patterns of inheritance and parental genotypes based on either a pedigree or the rates of a given phenotype in the offspring. It is helpful to be familiar with the phenotype ratios, pedigree charts, and the specifics of the ...
How to solve kinematics problems, part 2
This article is the second chapter in a series on how to understand and approach kinematics problems. The first chapter covered position, velocity, and acceleration. Now that we understand these quantities, we are going to use them to solve problems in one dimension. 
Essential tips for learning the anterior pituitary hormones
Learning the anterior pituitary hormones for your biology class or the MCAT can be a little overwhelming. It is easy to get lost in the weeds and struggle to see how it all connects. One thing that helped me when I was learning the anterior pituitary hormones was to visualize the connections between the most important structures. This both helped ...
Don't actually 'break a leg': common English idioms explained
One of the recent lessons I gave to my English Language Learners involved English idioms and their origins. An idiom is a saying that does not mean what the words literally express, but rather it has some representative meaning behind the words. Often, the reasons for the meanings of idioms are obscure; in this post, I will try to bring to light a ...
Breaking down nephron functioning into six easy steps!
The nephron is the kidney’s smallest functional unit. It works to ensure that the urine you excrete leaves your body in the correct volume and concentration. This is a complicated process, but once you master it, it is exciting to understand this important function of the human body!
What is kinematics? Physics answers made simple
How to use this guide This blog post is the first in a series on how to understand and approach kinematics problems. It is meant to supplement your class and textbook. I will focus on practical applications, how to solve problems, and common mistakes that students make. If you want to learn the basics of kinematics, I recommend a textbook, but if ...
Marginal Rate of Substitution (MRS), Marginal Utility (MU), and how they relate
In this post, I start off by explaining the Marginal Rate of Substitution (Sections II-IV). Then, I cover the concept of Marginal Utility (Sections V-VII). In both cases, I start with a story explanation, then give a formal definition, and finally provide some other useful information about the concept. After that, I connect the two concepts ...
Back to the basics: past, present, and future tenses in English
As an English teacher and literature major in college, I am passionate about the English language. I am a self-identified stickler for grammar, and I will correct a text to a friend if I notice it lacks an apostrophe or contains an erroneous punctuation mark.
3 ways to implement teacher feedback to improve your work
Most of us know what it feels like to put significant effort into an assignment, and to have it returned with a barrage of red comments cascading down the pages, recommending innumerable changes for improvement. It can feel disheartening and frustrating – and sometimes dampens your motivation to want to try at all to work on a revision!
Tips and mnemonics for memorizing amino acid structures
Learning amino acid structures is a challenging part of biology and biochemistry coursework. Many students feel totally overwhelmed by the task. The best way to master this skill is lots of repetition (here is a link to a Sporcle quiz that may help you with the repetition part) but it can be helpful to have tricks and mnemonics to get you started. ...
Revolving curves to make solids
Have you ever wondered where the formulas for volumes that you studied way back in geometry come from?
What is the subjunctive tense in English?
One grammar category that seems to be widely untaught is the names and functions of various verb tenses. For those who have studied a foreign language, the existence of these constructions is not so foreign, but native English speakers rarely learn what the subjunctive – in English – even is, let alone how to use it correctly. The same goes for ...
Turn back the clock on that grade! How to revise a bad college paper
After you receive your grade and read your professor’s comments, you might have a lot of those “if only” thoughts. “If only I had looked up that concept.” “If only I had taken extra time to proofread that.” “If only I had read the assignment more carefully.” “If only I had started earlier and done more research.” “If only I had realized I was ...
A list of common homophones and their differences
What is a Homophone? There are many more words in the English language than one might expect, given how similar their pronunciation and spelling can be. They're usually nouns and adjectives, except for those that function as conjunctions or contractions. Once you accept that English contains many pairs or groups of deceptively similar words with ...
4 tricks for solving any physics problem
Physics can be intimidating—all those pulleys and protons and projectile motion. If you approach it with the right mindset, however, even the hardest problems are usually easier than you think. When you come up against a tough question, don’t panic. Instead, start with these short, easy tricks to help you work through the problem. 
The most common English prefixes and their meanings
The English language comprises a plethora of words that can change meanings with the addition of a prefix or a suffix. For example, the prefix re signifies that the base word to which it attaches is happening again, as in "do" and "redo". In theory, one could add re an infinite number of times to the front of a word, and the effect would continue ...
Possessive plurals and plurals' possessives
Within the realm of punctuation, apostrophes on plurals and possessives can also lead to questions. There are patterns for forming plurals, though, and so that you do not have to wonder about when and where to put an apostrophe.
Three essential things to remember when citing parenthetically
For a lot of students, parenthetical citations may seem like the bane of their existence. You've just written a ten-page essay, you're happy with your argument and the conclusion you thought of in the middle of the night before it was due to submit, but you still have to check all the quotes. Especially in today's digital age, in which reading and ...
Physics: learn, don’t memorize!
Intro to Physics Blues    As a high school student, I took physics my junior year and struggled to stay afloat in the class. While I was interested in understanding and applying the theories I learned, it was difficult to make sense of them in my head. As a result, I began my first collegiate physics course with a lot of excitement, yet some ...
How to use logarithms to simplify Arrhenius temperature dependence
  Learning about logarithms is one of those times in math class where you wonder if this will ever be useful in any way. I see lots of students struggle with topics like logs, since they can seem abstract and they aren’t obviously useful. But I’m here to explain why they are actually incredibly important and describe so much of the world we live ...
How to study for AP Biology
When I was in high school, it was actually my AP Calculus teacher who gave me this AP Bio study tip. I used it with great success that year in AP Bio, and it continued to serve me well throughout college as I majored in molecular biology.
Choosing between AP and IB: an in-depth guide
I went to the International Academy (IA), which, for two years, was ranked the number one public high school in America by USA Today. As a metric, they used the number of IB or AP tests each student took.  My high school was an all IB school, one of the first in the country, and as an IB school, it required every student to take 6 IBs.
Which college literature classes should I take?
Congratulations! You’ve gotten to college, and now you never have to read another book in your life! But that’s exactly the opposite of what books can do for you in college. Instead of a book being something you have to read, think about college literature classes as your opportunity to get to read. Whether or not you’re a humanities major, odds ...
Converting Polar to Cartesian Equations in Five Easy Steps
If polar equations have you second-guessing your future as a nuclear physicist, fret not!  Almost every pre-calculus student I have tutored has struggled here, and it isn’t surprising at all.  Remember the first time you saw an equation and were introduced to these strange x and y variables?  It may seem like second nature now, but you were ...
An introduction to the branches of linguistics
Many students start college with no idea what linguistics is, and it’s possible they won’t even brush past it throughout their entire college career. Today, I’ll demystify and explain exactly what linguistics is and hopefully encourage you to at least take an introductory class! When I tell people that I'm doing a PhD in linguistics, there are ...
The ambiguous case of the law of sines explained
Trigonometry should be simple—you’re just using the given information to solve for only one answer, right? Well, with the Law of Sines, sometimes there is more than one right answer. This situation is also known as the Ambiguous Case.  Before we dive into the Ambiguous Case, let’s review the Law of Sines and Congruence.
A guide to deciphering chemistry arrows
Chemistry is confusing enough with IUPAC nomenclature procedures to know, and the difference between E/Z and cis/trans alkene descriptions, and so many other new terms, models, units, and symbols. But the most common and important symbol in chemistry is the arrow.
What you need to know before you study philosophy
I’ve been studying philosophy since the age of fourteen, when my grandpa, a philosophy professor, invited me to spend the summer with him and learn about Plato and Aristotle with his college undergrads. Right away, I was hooked. Not only were we asking some of the most fascinating questions a human being can consider—what is justice? What is ...
The basics of retrosynthesis
People often dismiss organic chemistry as “all memorization”. I disagree – organic chemistry is just a series puzzles based on a few basic concepts (electronics, sterics, orbitals) that come together to answer almost any problem you might encounter on your homework or tests.
Inertia experiments and rolling motion part II
Last time on our physics tutoring blog, we conducted an experiment to investigate the influence of the moment of inertia on rolling motion. We started with two objects that had the same shape, but very different size and mass. Starting from rest, we then set them both rolling down a ramp, to see which one would reach the bottom first. The objects ...
What are heuristics? Representative vs. availability heuristics
One topic that many of my psychology tutoring students get confused about is the topic of heuristics, which comes up when they study judgment and decision-making.
How do I write a good thesis?
Writing a good thesis is simple: pick a position, then defend it like crazy. Your English teacher likes to talk about writing a thesis. You've learned about this every year, it seems, and yet somehow, when you get your paper back, your teacher has always marked all over it, and said that your thesis is "not an argument" or "not specific enough" or ...
3 anecdotes from the lives of great mathematicians
It’s a shame that so many people can go through college as math majors and minors without ever learning the history of mathematics. Who were Euler and Gauss? Newton and Leibnitz? Euclid? We all know their theorems and mathematical contributions, but rarely do most of us think of the people —with their messy lives, quirks, and stories— behind these ...
3 tricks for physics standardized tests
Learning to take standardized physics exams, like the AP Physics exam or the SAT Physics Subject Test, is not unlike trying to become fluent in a foreign language. Both follow highly idiosyncratic logic and are best learned through practice. (And believe it or not, standardized physics exams have less to do with physics than physics aficionados ...
How to love a poem
Hands, do what you’re bid; Bring the balloon of the mind That bellies and drags in the wind Into its narrow shed.
How to read and interpret economic graphs
Learning to think like an economist can be a daunting task for beginners. Introductory economics courses often begin with a jargon-loaded discussion of opportunity costs and marginal benefits versus marginal costs—in other words, what is the benefit of continuing to read the rest of this post, and what else could you be doing with your time?  In ...
How to tell if a bond is inter- or intra-
As you go over the material in your chemistry course or your SAT/AP test prep, you most certainly spend a lot of time learning about bonds—what they are, how they differ, how strong they are, and so forth.  Also, you have probably read about them being classified into intramolecular bonds and intermolecular bonds.  During my many one-on-one ...
How to remember the steps of photosynthesis
Over the years, I have tutored many students studying for the AP biology exam and I have noticed that the majority of them find photosynthesis and cellular respiration very difficult and confusing. These are very important processes that frequently appear on the AP exam. However, there is so much information, so much detail, and so many terms, ...
Objections and responses in philosophy
My last post on philosophical writing addressed the issue of constructing arguments for your philosophical theses.  Since then, model students of philosophy that you are, I’m sure you’ve been wandering the streets, haunting the parks, and occupying the coffee shops of Manhattan, Cambridge, Kalamazoo, or wherever you happen to live, dreaming up ...
Transcription, translation, and the Central Dogma of Biology
Anyone studying biology, I mean anyone, will have to learn about the Central Dogma of Biology. The name itself, Central Dogma, clearly portrays how important this is. So what is it? The Central Dogma describes how information flows in a biological system, from DNA to RNA to Protein. If you stop for a second and think about it, this is quite ...
What is love of wisdom in philosophy?
The word “philosophy” comes to us from ancient Greek and means “love of wisdom”.  Someone who pursues philosophy, then, was supposed to be someone who was seeking the attainment of wisdom.  What is wisdom, though, and what is it to love wisdom?
Cooking with moles in chemistry
Anyone who has had some contact with chemistry knows how important the mole is to chemistry. 
How to rewrite an essay without losing your sanity
The secret to good writing isn't fancy vocabulary or acrobatic syntax--it's good editing.  All writers, even the most confessional, verbose, and conversational, spend immense amounts of time rewriting, honing, cutting, and polishing their work.  This holds doubly true for academic essays.  The best writers live by a simple truth: first drafts are ...
Evocative vs explicative language
We’ve all been subjected to that lecture in middle school Language Arts class about the differences between “showing” and “telling” with our writing—about the stylistic separation between providing sensory details around a piece of information and just stating that piece of information outright. In the context of seventh-grade compositions, this ...
How to identify unknown solutions in a chemistry lab
One of the most common general chemistry lab experiments, both in advanced high school classes as well as introductory college courses, is the identification of a series of unknown chemicals.  As a chemistry tutor, I am well equipped to break it down for you.
Making the jump in from High School Chemistry to College Chemistry
As a chemistry tutor here in Cambridge, one of the questions I’m frequently asked is “What is chemistry like in college?”