“Mental Boot Camp” Can Improve SAT Scores, Student Success,
and Even Change Alertness and Memory in the Over-50 Baby Boomers
Tyler was a motivated high school junior, potential Ivy League football player, and solid AP (Advanced Placement) student. But he was “SAT-Challenged!”
Jessica was also an excellent student in her junior year in high school, but her test anxiety was so great it could only be controlled with prescription medication.
Cheryl is a 50-something baby-boomer with more and more of those embarrassing “senior moments” that leave her at a loss for names and having trouble finding the words she wants to say.
Ryan is a 12-year old dyslexic learner, bright but struggling to read and write.
As diverse as these four individuals seem, they can all be helped with mental fitness, or cognitive skills, training.
Recent brain research indicates that the brain can continue to grown and change throughout our lifetime. The kinds of skills needed for
• quick thinking and problem solving on the SAT,
• relaxed, efficient retrieval of information for tests,
• sharp memory and thinking as we age, and
• overcoming learning challenges
are learned cognitive abilities that can be improved with training.
Tyler ‘s Story: Conquering the SAT
Tyler was a good student and a good football player. He was being looked at by scouts from Ivy League colleges. However, his SAT scores were nothing to brag about and he feared they would keep him out of the college he wanted to attend.
Tyler went to The Core Learning Group in Addison, Texas, where he lived, to see about getting some help. He scored so well on the screening test that the director of the center was hesitant to have Tyler make the investment of time and money.
Tyler and his family persisted and Tyler enrolled with The Core Learning Group for a 12 week course in processing skills training using PACE (Processing and Cognitive Enhancement). Here was the BIG result:
When Tyler re-took the SAT, his score improved by 200 points!
The SAT is as much about knowing how to think quickly, problem solve, evaluate, and apply knowledge as it is about knowing the material. The SAT time limits are the enemy of many test-takers. Students who do well on the SAT must be able to rapidly make good decisions so they can quickly spot and answer easier questions, leaving more time for the tougher ones.
For Tyler, as with many other college-bound students, the stress and length of the test was enough to compromise his performance. After completing the PACE program of cognitive training, Tyler had the speed and confidence to overcome these challenges.
Jessica’s Story: Overcoming Test Anxiety
Jessica, a high school junior, was an A student in advanced placement (AP) classes. In spite of being a top performer, she had extreme test anxiety that had to be managed with a prescription medication. Her parents really wanted to get her off the medication, but Jessica was afraid to because she “didn’t want to screw up her classes.”
Jessica enrolled in PACE, an intensive processing skills program. PACE develops cognitive skills in 24 specific areas including auditory and visual processing, short and long term memory, processing speed, attention, logic and reasoning, visualization, and association. Many of the activities are done to the beat of a metronome, which enhances processing speed, internal organization, and quick decision-making. For Jessica, activities were worked on at such a fast pace that she couldn’t afford to split her mental energy with anxiousness.
Jessica finished the PACE program in the Spring of her junior year. She went into AP calculus the following September and began scoring higher than anyone else in her class on her tests. Her classmates began calling her “The Brain.”
Jessica attributes her success to PACE. It showed her that she could perform without anxiety and gave her the skills to hold numbers and formulas in her head. She was amazed at how strong her ability to do mental math had become.
For Jessica’s parents, the PACE program help Jessica develop skills that allowed her another kind of success: She was able to get off of her anxiety medication!
More About the PACE Program
PACE is a cognitive skills training program that builds mental tools for thinking and learning. Recent research on the brain and learning suggests that mental exercises can increase the connections between brain cells, making thinking and learning quicker and easier. The brain seems to work a lot like a muscle. The more you work it the more it grows.
PACE is about working the brain. It is intense because intensity produces the quickest results, and it is motivating because students can see changes so quickly.
PACE was developed by a team of professionals in various fields related to learning. It develops skills in the following areas:
Attention: the ability to stay on task even when distractions are present.
Divided Attention: the ability to attend to and handle two or more tasks at one time. Such as: taking notes while listening, carrying totals while adding the next column
Sequential Processing: the ability to process chunks of information that are received one after another.
Simultaneous Processing: the ability to process chunks of information that are received all at once.
Logic and Reasoning: the ability to reason, plan, and think.
Processing Speed: the ability to perform cognitive tasks quickly; an important skills for complex tasks or tasks that have many steps.
Working Memory: the ability to hold and recall small amounts of information about the current situation until it is used or stored in long term memory; Holding information in your memory while deciding what to do with it.
Long Term Memory: the ability to retrieve past information when needed. This is important for spelling, comprehension, and test-taking.
Auditory Processing: the ability to take-in and think about information that is heard. This includes phonemic awareness, the ability to judge the number, order, and identity of sounds in words. This is a critical underlying factor in reading and spelling.
Visual Processing: the ability to perceive, analyze, and think with visual images. This often includes visualization, which plays an important role in comprehension, math word problems, and mental problem solving.
Increasing School Success
The unifying theme of successful older student who have participated in the PACE program has been that it saves them time.
These busy high-achieving students are often involved in sports, community service, and school functions. After PACE, they often come away so impressed by their efficiency with schoolwork and their own ability to manage their time.
College students who have previously been in special education or who were mediocre students in high school, and who have been afraid they “couldn’t cut it” in college, have consistently reported cognitive skills training to be unbelievably helpful in boosting their confidence, motivation, and school performance.
Cognitive Training for Struggling Students
Students who experience learning challenges usually have areas of inefficient processing, which are interrupting expected academic development. In order to make real changes in their learning, we need to explore the underlying skills critical to academic and social success . These include skills such as:
• Processing Speed
• Auditory processing, language, and communication
• Phonemic awareness
• Visual processing
• Logic and reasoning
• Internal timing and organization
• Motor coordination and sensory integration
Weaknesses or inconsistencies in one or more of these areas can cause difficulties with efficient learning. Cognitive skills training programs such as PACE have consistently been shown to improve student’s underlying thinking/learning processes in order to bring independence and success into the learning process.
Keeping the Brain Fit as We Age
As the Baby Boomer generation ages, awareness of brain health has dramatically increased. Several outstanding books have been written recently by medical doctors who outline steps for maintaining mental sharpness and treating and preventing neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, and Parkinson’s. The steps consistently include:
• Meditation or relaxation exercises, and
• Brain Training
The brain is a powerful resource. At any age, we can stimulate our cognitive skills for more efficient thinking and functioning!
Here are a few good resources for further information on brain health:
The Better Brain Book by David Perlmutter, M.D.
Making a Good Brain Great by Daniel Amen, M.D.
The Memory Prescription by Gary Small, M.D.