Guest post by Cameron Grell
“I can’t give up,” I muttered. I had been working hard in certain subjects like mathematics and science for years, but I was still struggling here. Memorizing equations has never been a strong suit of mine. I had been studying for months and months to catch up to a level of math where I could participate in this SAT exam and receive a good grade, but every question I read left me feeling incredibly dumb. I had nothing to prove to an exam board or anyone else; all I needed to do was prove to myself that being a homeschooler is not a disadvantage.
My eyes began wandering around and I noticed quite a few other students with phones under their tables. I also noticed a couple of other students in the front breezing through each question and writing what seemed like equations on scratch paper. Sinking into my chair, I was feeling terribly upset. I had no idea what some of these problems were asking of me, but I was determined to try. Minutes turned into what felt like hours, but once I finally completed the SAT, I immediately started to feel stress setting in. I have never been good with these types of questions, and I began feeling the need to escape and go home. Shyly walking out of the strange school hallways on a foggy morning and jumping into my car made me feel much more at ease. I rolled into the driveway of my home, hung up the keys, and fell into bed. Over the next month, I waited for my results with nervous anticipation. I had done all I could. What more could be asked?
“You must not have any social skills,” and, “It must be hard to even write a paper or do simple multiplication,” are common to hear from people who don’t know about homeschoolers. Neither of these is true. Homeschooling reaches each individual learner in their personal circumstances and makes it possible for them to succeed in every imaginable field. Through my three simplified main points — disciplined scheduling, tutoring, and grit — I want to share with you how you can succeed with what I have learned.
When I was younger, I never really studied for exams. My parents created these two-page exams with multiple-choice or “fill in the blank” questions, but I never bothered studying because I passed them with ease. While walking home from one fun day with my friends, I remembered that I had reached the age that required new exams which were twice as long and definitely twice as hard. How could I have been so stupid to have forgotten? I was struggling with learning Algebra, but I had put off the extra studying to have fun instead. To say I was feeling uneasy about taking that Algebra test was an understatement. The more I read the questions, the less familiar I became with the subject. I started to mumble, “Letters and numbers? Why do they even go together? This doesn’t make any sense.” I know I failed that test miserably because I did not take the appropriate time to pay attention. I learned from that experience and there is one thing I would do differently.
Create a Written and Detailed Schedule to Put in a Study Area and on Your Phone
Lynne Nielsen from Thomas Jefferson Education (TJEd) has been a mentor doing co-ops for families of homeschoolers, combining resources of parents to help teach children to love how to learn, be creative, and use discipline. She has her students learn how to study on their own and be proactive. Lynne explains, “I have my students write a study plan after the first couple of weeks once they understand the homework load. After that, we do ‘check-ups’ where we follow through on how they’re studying throughout the semester! Each person can create their own schedule in their own way so it’s flexible on how they want to achieve success.” (Personal Interview)
After the exam I failed, I decided to change what I had done wrong. I created a work schedule that would have me revise and review what I had learned, and take the time to solve the new problems. I had a screenshot of my schedule on the wallpaper of my phone and every day I would remember what I needed to do. When I sat down, I was able to see a chart I had written out following a 10 AM to 4 PM study schedule for the next 3 years.
Studying and focusing harder than ever before, my goal was to match, if not surpass, the average public-school student for the upcoming SAT that loomed over me. I began writing weekly page-long reports for my dad containing all that I had learned from my online tutoring and classes. After what felt like months, my dad scanned the page with undivided attention, and said, “Well done. I think you’re ready for the practice SAT exams.”
Receive Tutoring as Regularly as Possible
In my first semester of college, I registered for a math class. What may be simple for many was the source of much stress for me as equations are my bane. Everything I learned back home seemed to leave as I walked into this new class. I worked as hard as I could through the semester and spent several nights studying before taking the midterm, but I didn’t truly understand much of the material. As I looked over the questions on the test, I felt inadequately prepared. Once I finished, my heart sank as I saw my exam score. A little ashamed, I walked outside and passed the tutoring center. I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps I should have swallowed my pride and taken advantage of the help offered there before taking that exam.
Through this experience, I learned to schedule time for tutoring like you would for a class. I am now a firm believer that to do well in subjects you don’t quite understand, you need to get tutoring. Most schools provide free tutoring because they want you to succeed. Take advantage of that, or enlist the help of a roommate or friend who is knowledgeable in the subject in which you need help!
I started attending tutoring regularly. I have a lot of questions and I need a ton of help. Thankfully, one of my roommates, Daniel, is a math wizard. Every day after class, I picked his brain on equations and how he memorized them. Being a great friend, he was never too busy to help me. As we got to work, he patiently stood with me as I was struggling through every practice question he gave, but I eventually got it! I strutted confidently into my exam a week later. I had prepared everything up to this point, and with Daniel’s tutoring, I was ready. This time, I envisioned myself walking to the TV where my score would appear and seeing high marks. As I focused on that goal, each of the questions seemed to figure itself out for me! After finishing the last question, I got up with pride, turned my paper in, and waited patiently. After taking the time to process, my name popped up with a 96 percent score. Tutoring makes a big difference!
Accept Rejection and Keep Going Anyway
Applying for scholarships made me nervous. Being homeschooled, I knew I didn’t have the transcript that they wanted. I actually have no transcript whatsoever, and that’s a risk for most donors. After my first 8 applications were denied, I felt too defeated to keep trying.
I asked my colleague, Spencer Waddell, his thoughts on how he dealt with rejection. Spencer and his 9 siblings have homeschooled the entirety of their school career. Speaking of rejection and perseverance, he stated, “It may seem tempting after the first failure to quit and try to go on to something else. The feeling of an unrewarding and draining task isn’t fun for anyone. When it comes to something important to you and your career, you cannot afford to give up. Your dreams depend on it.” (Personal Interview) Naturally, the temptation to give up after failure is great, and many do take that route. Spencer’s encouragement to those who want to give up is to continue because your dreams depend on your determination.
I could not let my disadvantages get the best of me. Though feeling defeated, I wouldn’t give up. Eventually, writing the essays became easier, and I continued applying for scholarships. In the following months, I received a few more emails from my second round of applications. Again I was denied for them all…but one! That one scholarship offered more than all the other scholarships and it alone paid for a whole year of university. In a moment, all my dread turned to joy, and my hard work and perseverance had paid off.
With these three simple tips, you will be able to overcome the academic barriers that you may feel are standing in your way. By applying these tips, you can become more proactive in your approach to schooling or in your academic field, even if you feel insignificant compared to others like I feel. I am confident the application of these things will provide improvements in whatever field you enter. As I have used these in my life, I have found more happiness and greater determination to succeed.
Weeks after taking my SAT exam, I received an email with my results. With my dad standing close by, I hesitantly looked at my English scores. I had the most confidence in these skills, but the results weren’t great. I did everything to study and mentally prepare. Where did I go wrong? Disappointed, I looked at my total score and saw over 1190. I was more than a little shocked. I looked at the mathematics section and to my surprise found a much higher score than I anticipated! Suddenly my defeat became a victory. I had conquered my Goliath.
More about the Author:
Cameron Grell is a graduate scholar from TJEd (Thomas Jefferson Education) and is currently enrolled in a University within Idaho for Business Marketing.