One of the greatest challenges students face, both in school and on standardized tests, is transcending their anxiety. At our fantastic and award-winning learning center, the Cambridge Learning Center of New Jersey, we do our best to help students mitigate this anxiety. Also, in my parent meetings, while often reassuring parents that the anxiety their children experience is quite common, I tell them that it is important to have a strategic plan that all family members are involved in and that the genesis and nature of the student’s anxiety is properly understood.



Academic test anxiety is more than simply getting a little jittery before an exam. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) describes it as a full-fledged psychological condition, a type of performance anxiety characterized by “extreme nervousness about taking a test.” It is important in any discussion about such an important issue to first distinguish between normal anxiety that any student would have and when that anxiety reaches a clinical level.

When parents meet with me, I help them make this distinction.
Test anxiety can strike before, during or after any exam. There are cases where it shows up from the commencement of the school year, especially if a student knows one of the grand standardized exams is on the horizon. It can present itself in diverse symptoms, from as simple as sweaty palms, upset stomach, shallow breathing, nausea, and headaches, to more complicated symptoms such as emotional and cognitive symptoms which include feelings of helplessness and difficulty concentrating. In extreme cases, students exhibit these symptoms even after thorough preparation for the test and having a firm grasp on the material. Despite this, they will freeze or blank once the test is in front of them.


Before discussing how you can help your child cope with such anxiety, let me just offer one thing concerning special needs students: research suggests that students with disabilities experience greater test anxiety than their peers without these limitations. So, it is essential to consider other potential challenges, such as processing speed deficits, learning differences and skill deficits when diagnosing students with test anxiety.

Tips for Managing Test Anxiety

It is worth first noting that different strategies will work for different children. So, I feel that parents should be maximally flexible and have a robust bag of tricks to help their child or children. We operate on the same principle here at Cambridge.

Here are some tips to try:

· Ask your child questions for clarity. Identifying why your child is experiencing test anxiety can be helpful in figuring out the best way to manage it because this will provide valuable clues as to what will help calm him or her down. Have a calm discussion with them, helping to locate the root of their anxiety. Often times, students have a “worst-case scenario” that is not very realistic, such as “If I fail this test, I will never get into college.” You can challenge and reality test students’ misperceptions like this with: “Many students have gotten into college and didn’t do perfectly on every test in high school.”


· Use my effective test-taking strategies taught during our tutoring sessions. If your child is not a student at our center, familiarize yourself with well-known anxiety-mitigation strategies available on the public market. Strategies like familiarizing one’s child suffering from test anxiety with the actual content they’re being tested on can help calm them. Some of these techniques include reading questions thoroughly before answering them (especially for tricky technology-enhanced item types), skipping over questions that students don’t know for better time management, and reviewing answers as time allows, etc. All of these above are part of our repertoire and my curriculum at Cambridge.
· Focus on the positives. Children struggling with test anxiety dwell in patterns of negative thinking when it comes to tests. They often focus on all of the mistakes they could make, things that could go wrong, and how catastrophic a lousy score could be.


Parents should help shift their focus by assisting them to reflect on some successful past experiences. Request of them to tell you (or journal) about a test that they performed well on. How did they prepare for that test? How did they feel about it before and after? Getting them to stop and remember their abilities can go a long way toward breaking the negativity cycle—and calm nerves in the process. This can help bolster their confidence.

· Teach relaxation strategies. Visualization exercises are great for kids because they tend to have active imaginations. It is best practiced when your child is calm. Request for her to close her eyes and identify a place she feels happy, confident, and relaxed. Encourage her to share details about the sights, sounds, and scents in his calming place. As they share, cue them to take deep breaths. Then on test day, remind your child to close their eyes and visualize their calming place whenever they feel anxious.


In helping your child overcome the challenge of test anxiety, one may need to experiment a few before you find the techniques that work best for your ward. Be creative and patient, and you can have a meeting with me about it also. Actively helping your child to develop skills in self-regulation will provide benefits for decades to come.


About  the author:

Justin M. Buffer is the founder, owner, and head teacher/educational director of the Cambridge Learning Center of New Jersey.

Lang, Jonas W.B., and Jessica Lang. “Priming Competence Diminishes the Link Between Cognitive Test Anxiety and Test Performance: Implications for the Interpretation of Test Scores.” Psychological Science 21, no. 6 (2010): 811-19.

Best Nutritional and Vitamin Practies for optimal student functioning


   During meetings and talks with our students’ parents, we are often asked for dietary and nutritional advice for their children to optimize brain functioning and academic performance.  The first thing we usually mention is that there are some things we don’t have to tell any parent because they already know it; for example, everyone knows- and common sense tells us- that sugar and junk food will not help with enhancing a student’s or anyone else’s intellectual functioning.

Image result for Brain food

       But there are indeed some foods and practices that parents can use to help their children have optimal mental clarity, and that can enhance brain functioning, which can, in the long run, carry over to better academic performance.Image result for food for mental clarity



None of what is offered below though should be read as operating or affecting us in isolation and without context, as there are numerous other factors- ranging from a student’s self-image, a learning disability, to the quality of the teacher-student relationship- that can affect any student’s academic performance in any area.  Regardless, it is good to have adequate and proper nutrition on your child’s side as you navigate the parenting process. 

The first fact to keep in mind when thinking about nutrition and brain functioning is that the brain is the control center of the human body. It is in charge of keeping the heart beating, the lungs breathing, and ensuring the ability to move, feel and think. Thus, it is necessary that we keep the brain healthy by nourishing it with a good diet. Research demonstrates that, combined with a holistic plan that includes exercise, meditation, safeguarding the quality of your environment, and other factors, you can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain as well as increasing cognitive performance if you eat right.   In his esteemed book, The Brain Diet, Harvard-based research and nutritional expert Alan Logan details the enormous benefits of a diet with the brain’s health in mind.

Image result for high brain\ foods

And while there isn’t a particular ideal full daily diet for optimal brain functioning- breakfast, lunch, and dinner-  there are many ways and pathways to feed your or your child’s brain right. Below is a list of categories and food tips you can integrate as you see fit into your family’s life and get good health and nutrition on your side. I will issue a caveat though and quote nutritionist Dr. Fred Bisci, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting personally, and tell you that “It’s what you leave out that counts.” Dr. Bisci, a Staten Island, New York-based nutritionist ( is known for his admonishments that the best diet can be negatively offset by its mixture with foods that are unhealthy. So, it goes without saying that all of what is below should not be used as an excuse for children to indulge in foods that are known to be toxic to peak functioning.  Here are some foods that you can include in your child’s diet.


#1:  Eggs

     Eggs contain B vitamins, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids. They help nerve cells to burn glucose, protect neurons against damage and keep nerve cells functioning at prime speed. It is advisable for children to have an egg per day to gain these valuable nutrients.


Image result for eggs healthy


#2: Oatmeal

   Mixed with a tablespoon of Flaxseed (which is an excellent source of Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA), a healthy fat that boosts cerebral cortex function), as well as a teaspoon of peanut butter, sliced banana, and walnut, oatmeal for breakfast can help your child get off to a good start for the day.


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#3: Almonds

   Research has demonstrated that almonds are good for increased attention and awareness, both essential for learning. Also, almonds help in restoring memory and cognitive function.

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#4: Beet and Berry Smoothie

   This unique mixture, which is worth trying, helps in increasing blood flow to the brain which improves mental performance.


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#5. Walnuts

   This potent brain food improves cognitive function and can even reduce memory loss.


#6: Fresh Fruits

      Generally, the essence of fresh fruits in the human body cannot be overemphasized. More especially those rich in Vitamin C, specifically, help boosts mental agility and reduces the decline in the brains cognitive abilities. Examples of such fruits are bananas, tangerines, pears, oranges, watermelons, and pineapples.


Image result for fresh fruits healthy

Blueberries provide a wide range of health benefits including some that are specifically for the brain. It contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. Some of the antioxidants in blueberries accumulates in the brain and helps ensure communication between brain cells. You can sprinkle them on your breakfast cereal or add them to a smoothie.

#7: Omega 3 rich fish

   Salmon, Mackerel, Kippers, and Trout contain high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids that add to healthy brain function and reducing memory loss. Overall, fatty fish is an excellent choice for brain health.



#8: Broccoli & Carrots

  Broccolis are rich in Vitamin K and are responsible for boosting brain power and cognitive function. It is essential for forming sphingolipids, which is a type of fat that is densely packed into brain cells. It also helps protect the brain against damage. Carrots are rich in carotene and play a vital role in the improvement of memory and verbal skills.




#9: Freshly brewed tea

  If you or your child already have a cup of tea daily, then you’re definitely on the right track. Consumption of two to three cups of freshly brewed tea daily contains an amount of caffeine that helps boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus, and mood.


Image result for fresh fruits healthy


#10: Turmeric


       This is known to be a key ingredient in curry powder and has some benefits for the brain. It is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent that has been linked to the growth of new brain cells and the improvement of the memory, most especially with people diagnosed with Alzheimer.

There are obviously more foods and tips to offer around this topic, but I hope this has given you some fundamental insight into some daily practices you can include to help your child be the best they can be.

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References & Recommended Reading

Logan, Alan C. The Brain Diet: The Connection Between Nutrition, Mental Health, and Intelligence. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 2007.

Speck, Maria. “A Gift of Grains.” Gastronomica 7, no. 4 (2007): 84-87





Are college visits and tours useful?




June 9, 2017

By Justin M. Buffer, MSE, College Essay Coach, and Planner, Founder and Owner of Cambridge Learning Center of NJ

        “Do I have to visit every college before I apply?” “How many colleges do we have to visit?” “When do we visit?” These are questions we are regularly asked here at Cambridge Learning Center and as part of our College Essay Coaching/College Planning program. I want to try in this article to give some general answers to these common questions.

First, families do not have to visit every college before applying. You should visit some universities, of course, especially ones that are close by or not geographically inconvenient (such as on vacation), as well as ones that are the student’s top choices, when possible. Families should not feel pressure, though, to visit before sending in an application. I feel it is important that we discuss why visiting colleges can be most helpful and what I feel its overriding purpose should be. The primary purpose of visiting colleges in the summer or any time is to really start to get a feel for a student’s preferences concerning the particularities of the kinds of colleges they would like to attend.

Some students, for example, will come back from a college visit and tell me, in effect, “I never want to go to a school in Manhattan.” Or, “A rural area in the middle of nowhere is not for me!” Some come back and state that they never want to attend a school with a large sports atmosphere or that they do indeed want a big school that plays in the NCAA tournament, despite first thinking they did not want to. These are all a matter of personal preference, and it is advantageous if a student has a good sense of their inclinations. One student I worked with a few years ago was so sure he wanted to go a particular university in California, only to come home from his visit to tell me that a large campus isn’t for him.


Such expressions help me as a College Planner best ascertain what schools to recommend to students and parents. After doing so, families can visit what they can before the application process and then visit the schools they get into during the spring before they commit. A lot of students of mine from previous years didn’t visit a school until they got into it. In reality, very few people can visit every school before they apply anyway. Additionally, campus tours should also be seen for what they are: marketing presentations for the school. Erica Reischer, a clinical psychologist, and the author of What Great Parents Do: 75 Simple Strategies for Raising Kids Who Thrive, says that students and parents are not the best evaluators of what will make them happy and can often be deceived by such polished productions by universities. She suggests being careful and keeping everything a family sees on these outings in this context.


The top priorities prior to the application process should always be getting one’s personal essays, resume, and grades ready to be the best they can be. This includes a student’s first marking period grades of their senior year because they can help boost a student’s GPA, and good grades at this time can demonstrate continuity and consistency.


This is where parents and students should keep their primary focus as the college application process unfolds.



Reischer, E. (2016). What great parents do: 75 simple strategies for raising kids who thrive. NY, NY: TarcherPerigee.




Does volunteering help with College Admissions? Understanding how students can best use their time.



       All the time, my students’ parents ask me the following questions or some variations thereof:

“How important is volunteering?”


“What’s a good volunteering internship my son or daughter should try and get?”

Essentially, what they’re really asking are questions such as, “How important is volunteering when it comes to my child getting into college?” or “How can I increase my child’s chance of getting into a great school through volunteering?”

So let’s discuss this for a moment in the context of a situation I see happen regularly here at the Cambridge Learning Center of New Jersey….

Oftentimes, my students will enter a crunch period, with the SATs looming on the horizon. Those weeks of study leading up to the exam are critical. It’s an intense patch of time, to say the least.

Regardless, I’ll sometimes notice absences during this period leading up to the SATs.

I went to one parent and asked, “What’s going on? Your child has been absent the past two Saturdays.”

The parent replied, “She has to volunteer; she can’t miss that. ‘Cause it’ll look bad for college…”

   After this happened again recently, I knew it was time to write this article to help correct a misperception that I see as the source of a counterproductive pattern.

I’d like to make it totally clear that Volunteering Is NOT Of Greater Importance Than Doing Well On The SATs, having good grades, taking a strong courseload, and demonstrating great work habits that students’ teachers can write about in their recommendation letters.

Unless a student is in a mandatory volunteering post, which will have a direct scholastic impact, volunteering should not be given priority over more vital factors.

Volunteer pic

Now, this is not to downplay the value of volunteering in and of itself. Don’t get me wrong: volunteering, taken on its own merits, is one of the best things a person can put their time into.  As someone who volunteers regularly at soup kitchens, food packaging centers, and other places dedicated to serving those in need, I know there is strong intrinsic value and worth in volunteering and giving back to society. Yet to volunteer from the wrong motives – namely, pumping up a college application – is hardly a wise use of one’s time, energy, or ability.

When it comes to volunteering, as well as any extracurricular activity, the value lies largely in the substance of the action – in the doing itself, and what comes out of it – rather than in how it will look on a college application. To be sure, a total absence of extracurricular activity isn’t positive. That said, college admissions officers are not inclined to make such activity their leading point of interest.

A college admissions officer specializes in taking each aspect of an application in context. For example, if a student excels in class, does beautifully on the SATs, takes on challenging coursework, AND puts six hours a week into volunteering, THAT makes a major statement, and is worthy of being rewarded. For one thing, such a profile is indicative of strong time management skills. For another thing, it’s indicative of a well-rounded personality. But I front-loaded my list of application items with grades and test scores for a reason:

Because college admissions officers will always look at those first.

It’s unwise to drift into thinking that volunteering will be rewarded for its own sake, as in a meritocracy. Nobody on the college side of the equation will see a given application and go, “Oh good, he or she got mediocre test scores, but they had a big enough heart to volunteer!”

Please take my above words in the spirit with which they’re intended: with a sense of humor.  A large part of my job as the Founder, Owner, and Educational Director here at Cambridge Learning Center of New Jersey is to help get families and kids ready for and be informed about college, and if that means denting the mystique of volunteering, then so be it.

Going forward, I encourage you to think of volunteering in the following two ways:

  • Volunteering is Indicative of Good Time Management Skills

The student who achieves balance in his or her profile, with volunteering taking up a reasonable slice of the pie chart, is demonstrating a strong ability to manage his or her time, which will certainly be appreciated by colleges.

  • Volunteering can be a Strong Launchpad toward and intertwined with Achievement

In other words, in the context of a college application, volunteering in the course of lending one’s time and energy to a cause is one thing, but volunteering in the course of achieving something tangible is far more powerful. Here’s a real-world example: One of my students volunteered for a state assemblywoman. During his internship with her, he used his talent for computer science to build a detailed database for her constituents. I thought that was just incredible. He got into Cal Tech, and I have no doubt his creativity and achievement in terms of volunteering, coupled with a letter of recommendation from the lawmaker herself, shined through as a major plus on his application.

Imagine if he had only volunteered there, and walked away with nothing to show for it other than the fact that he had done so…

You’ll never catch me putting somebody down for volunteering. However, when it comes to somebody prioritizing volunteering above their SATs for the sake of looking good to colleges, I will not hesitate to weigh in with some clarity.

Getting into college is a competitive game. Volunteering is one way to play it, but it’s far from the most important one, and it must be approached with a sense of strategy, consciousness, and care.

Advice for Parents: Fostering a love for learning in your child

Advice for Parents:  Unleashing a

love for

learning in your child

By Mr. Justin Buffer, MSE, Founder, Owner, and Educational Director of the Cambridge Learning Center of NJ in North Brunswick, NJ 


“Here at Cambridge, my continuing observation is that our students with a deep thirst for knowledge- paired with a well-trained teacher with whom they connect and who nurtures their curiosity- reach amazing heights of achievement.”

Mr. Buffer, Cambridge Founder, Ed. Director, and Owner describing his formula for success at Cambridge Learning Center


A concerned parent of a younger student recently asked me: “Mr. Buffer, what is the best thing I can do to help my child’s chances for long-term success?”   My response was immediate: “Foster a love for learning.”Love for learning

I feel that anybody, no matter what their current IQ or testing score is at a certain grade level, has the potential for their own expression of genius within them.  Although the time it will take for each to reach that point will vary, everybody can shine brighter  than they did before in their own individual way with a change in attitude, external environment, and appraoch. This is my personal belief shaped by my experience in education and what I have seen happen here at Cambridge. I also back it up by studies conducted by education and sociology researchers. I do not believe that nature solely shapes a person’s destiny. My belief is that, while genetics are always relevant, hard work and environmental factors, even for Special Education students, can greatly boost a child’s (or anyone’s) intellectual functioning, helping to extract unearthed brilliance.

Jess Lair

One of the trends with kids today is that they focus so much on good grades, that they do not care much about actually learning. Likewise, they might only focus on the subjects they think they need to move ahead such as math and the sciences but forget about history and literature.    None of this to say that grades are not important; as a College Planner and owner of an institution that helps to improve grades, I know that they are.  But, if the focus is purely on grades, a child usually does not reach his or her own peak potential.

When we instill a love of learning in children, though, they understand its intrinsic value. School becomes a lot more than passing and failing. It becomes a quest to gather as much knowledge as possible. It enables a child to become a sponge because they want to know more about almost everything and, not surprisingly, usually produces stellar grades. They see the practical value of information and knowledge in the grand scheme of life. That might sound grandiose, but the point is that when a child discovers that learning helps her or him to connect the dots of life easier, learning becomes a “want,” and not a “chore.” This leads to a better overall person who can go beyond grades in what he or she can accomplish.

Children come to understand that when they learn more, the better they feel. Even when they are struggling with other areas of growing up, an ability to learn gives them a confidence that they can eventually handle anything thrown at them. Helping children understand this is one of the key factors I have seen that differentiates those students who reach the top and those who don’t quite reach their potential.

This is a huge factor. I always tell people- even adults: “A love for learning is a foundation for making dreams come true.” It really is. A passion for learning, and not just for making grades, will help someone reach their full potential. You can see how this works in athletics. The best players that reach their potential are the ones who fully love the sport they play. They are not just there for the money or championships, but for the love of the game. It makes them do what they can to achieve their absolute best.

When we look at sports as an analogy with learning and succeeding at school, the same truth applies. Many notable athletes might not have had the most talent, but their love for the game and their passion for playing and competing helped them rise to the highest level. The same is true in academics.

A parent has a central role in developing this thirst for learning. You cannot instill a love of learning in kids without modeling a passion for it yourself. People often say, “This person is naturally curious.” I do not buy into that saying. I do not think there is such a thing as a vastly more naturally or genetically curious person. I believe some parents or guardians shot down or did not nurture a child’s curiosity when they were young. For these kids, they never had an opportunity to learn how to blossom with their curiosity.

This happens so easily.  Sometimes, all it takes is a parent saying, “Stop asking so many questions.” I have seen this happen. On the other hand, I have also seen the parents who know how to help their child’s creativity blossom by encouraging it. When the parent faces something new, he or she says, “I’m going to look that up. I want to learn about this.” They are modeling learning for their kids. They show them that curiosity is powerful. Kids look up to their parents. Just as children observe manners and behavior from their parents, they gain the same insight in regards to learning. I always find it funny when parents ask, “How can I make my child love learning more and be more curious?” The first thing I want to know is what the parents are doing to set an example in that direction. Sometimes, it isn’t much at all.

It is never too late to develop that love of learning. Many so-so students excel in their career today because they latched on to this passion late in life. For a student at any age, you can change your mindset with how you look at learning. Challenge yourself and your children to start asking “why” about everything. If you or your child don’t know the meaning of a word or are introduced to a new event…or anything…look it up. Google it. If it grabs one of your attention, get a book about it, and encourage your child to do the same. The paradox of today is that we have more ways to find information, and less desire to do so by students if it doesn’t directly affect a grade.

Help your child change their thinking, and watch them blossom into whom they are meant to be.