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Making a case for a college education

Q. How can I present to my son the urgency and importance of getting into college? He is a senior and doesn't want to do much about looking into four-year colleges. He has mentioned working, taking a couple of courses at a community college, and renting an apartment after graduation. This scenario never crossed my mind.

John M., Medfield

A. Hear your son out. Rather than meet his decision with disbelief or disapproval, ask him to explain his rationale. Some seniors react to the monomania surrounding the college application process by choosing another direction. They view the selection of a school, application essays, requests for recommendations, and thought of another four years of class schedules as daunting or undesirable. On the cusp of adulthood, they often see a job and apartment as a shorter path than college to the independence they crave.

Prepare your case for the value of a college education and present it after your son has had his say. Move beyond a discussion of earning potential and quality-of-life issues, which may seem remote and abstract to an 18-year-old, and speak about creating opportunities. Use your knowledge of your son's talents and interests to explain the relevance and worth of a college degree.

Provide examples of friends and relatives that he will appreciate. When it's clear you have his best interests in mind, he'll be inclined to reconsider his motivation. Also, speak with his guidance counselor, who no doubt sees this scenario often. If, however, your son needs a break from formal education, present a compromise: apply to college with the option of deferring for one year.

Q. Are there any programs available to teach test-taking skills? My daughter completely freezes when she takes a test, and the problem seems to be getting worse each year. She will be a senior this coming school year and we are desperate for help.

A.J.B., Whitman

A. There's no shortage of private companies offering test-taking instruction. Before paying for assistance, check out what resources are available at your daughter's school.

Also, attempt to conceal the desperation you mention, which will only add to your daughter's anxiety about doing well on exams. Enlist the help of her guidance counselor to figure out the source of her stress come test time. If her preparation is sufficient, what's getting in the way of demonstrating her knowledge? Does the problem pertain to all subjects? Is it related to a particular type of test, say, essay or multiple-choice? Is there a paralyzing expectation of perfection or a problem completing the exam in the allotted time? Put together a variety of exams from last year on which your daughter ``froze," and see what patterns the three of you can uncover.

With a new academic year beginning, your daughter should approach her teachers before major exams to share her concerns and seek advice. Teachers want to see their students do well on exams, though some cynical students think we hope to make a mockery of their preparation. A conversation with a teacher can make an upcoming exam seem more like a chance to demonstrate knowledge rather than some damning measure of one's intelligence or potential.

Another possibility is peer tutoring. At most schools, members of the National Honors Society are available to tutor classmates. I've seen students benefit from their peers' advice and instruction. I would also consider borrowing books on test-taking strategies from your local library before paying a princely sum to a private outfit.

Here's some general advice my colleagues and I share with students each fall about preparing for tests.

Peruse class notes nightly, making studying a matter of reviewing rather than cramming. Exams seem less daunting when you're well acquainted with the material.

Sleep well, eat a healthy breakfast, and have confidence in your preparation.

Read the exam's instructions and questions carefully. They are directions, not prompts.

Survey the entire exam and plot your approach. Budget enough time for essays and complicated questions. Attempt to leave yourself a few minutes to review your work.

If you received a sub-par grade, meet with your teacher to review your performance.

Realize that any worthwhile education is always a work-in-progress.

Ron Fletcher teaches English at Boston College High. To submit a question, email Include your name, town and email address. Questions, upon request, can be printed anonymously. Ask the Teacher column runs on alternate Sundays with Campus Insider, a column on higher education news. Campus Insider will make its return this school year on Sept. 10.

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