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A primer on the New York State Regents exams

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The New York State Regents system has a long history: the first examination was given in 1866, and by 1879, forty-two different tests were being administered. All public high school students in the state still take Regents exams in order to earn a Regents Diploma. Depending on the range and depth of courses taken and the students' aggregate scores, students may qualify for the basic Regents Diploma, the diploma with Advanced Designation or one with additional honors. Highest scorers earn scholarships of $500 or $1500 per year, good at any college or university in New York State.

I recently asked Alan Sheptin, founder of the Sheptin Tutoring Group in Westchester County, to give an overview of the tests and share some of his expertise in preparing for them.

- Why are the Regents exams so important?

In New York State, the Regents examinations are the capstone exams to most academic courses in grades nine through eleven. There are Regents examinations for all four core Science courses (Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), three Math courses (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra 2 and Trig), Social Studies (a two-year Global Studies exam, and US History), and Comprehensive English. The NYS Board of Regents got rid of the World Language exams in 2012. These exams are high stake, as they can account for up to 25% of a student's final grade, depending on the school.

- Which Regents exams are considered the most difficult?

Each is challenging for different reasons. Physical Science (Chemistry and Physics) exams have extended response questions which require extensive knowledge and expertise, while the Living Environment (aka Biology) exam is hard because of the language of Biology. The Algebra II and Trigonometry exam is challenging because the material is so intrinsically difficult. And the Global Studies exam is tough because students are tested on two years of dense material.

- What textbooks are recommended for self-guided study and when should students start their review?

I recommend the Lets Review! series by Barrons, which is what I used when I studied for the Regents. Regentsprep.org has a library of all recent exams. What few people know is that this website also has an archive of old Regents – dating as far back as 1860! Since subjects such as Math have changed little over the years, doing old exams is a great way to get additional practice.

- Why do students in Westchester come to you to prepare for the Regents exams?

Since we offer an outstanding one-day comprehensive review of any Regents subject matter, students come to us for as many as three and four reviews. Because of the popularity of our program here in Northern Westchester, we will be opening additional centers in Buffalo, Nassau and Suffolk Counties this year. Our courses provide a good overview of the exam material, enable students to ask questions and practice exam problems. By the time a review is complete, a student will have a solid inventory of his/her skill set, and can better manage his/her studying in the days leading up to the exam. Our courses cost in the $175 range and include a comprehensive study guide, lunch, and a snack.

- From your experience, what are some of the best tips you can give Regents review students?

- Do all your work diligently throughout the year. You cannot cram for these exams.
- Do many practice Regents exams. You will notice patterns in the types of questions being asked. Frequently, we can predict the type of questions that will be on the exam.
- Ask for help, either from a classmate, teacher or tutor.
- Take your time when you take the actual exam. You have three hours to complete it. Rushing usually gives way to careless errors.
- Take one of our courses. It's time well spent.

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About the author: Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, has 25+ years of experience as a teacher and test prep tutor. Karen teaches students in New York and internationally via Skype for the PSAT, SAT, ACT, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, IELTS, TOEFL and GRE, and also offers tutoring in reading, writing and math. Learn more about Karen at karenberlinishii.com.

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