Update on The Secrets of Top Students: First Translation!

I’m excited to announce that my book, The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College, is now available in Chinese!  It’s being sold in Taiwan and you can find it here.  According to Google Translate, the title is “Gifted students do not stay up late! To get into elite precision Learning: time management, note and sit secret.”  I’m sure in Chinese it sounds a little more elegant.

The Secrets of Top Students in Chinese!

The Secrets of Top Students in Chinese!

In other news, my book is now available on the Staples website.

I’d also like to thank The Study Dude for highlighting my book in The Voice Magazine.


Taking a DNA genetic ethnicity test: Are you who you think you are?

I decided to try Ancestry.com’s DNA test recently, mainly out of curiosity and because I don’t know much about my ancestors. The test costs $100 and is super easy – you just send away for a test kit, spit into a tube, send it to the company, and a few weeks later you get the results online. Here are my results:

A graphical representation of my DNA!

A graphical representation of my DNA!

It says I’m 81% European Jewish (no surprise there), 8% Persian/Turkish/Caucasus, and 6% Finnish/Volga-Ural. I had no idea about the last two. My main complaint is that “European Jewish” is such a broad group – according to the results, it includes Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and other Jewish populations – although if you go by the map representation, it looks mostly Ashkenazi (Eastern European). That’s a little confusing. I was hoping the results would be more specific. It also provides a list of people who are possible DNA matches and may be long-lost cousins, which is interesting, but I’m not really sure how that works. I also thought it was funny that the first line in their “European Jewish” page is, “The bagel was brought to and popularized in the United States by Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants.” Really? Is that the most interesting factoid they could come up with?

In any event, the test was worth doing and has definitely made me think more about my ancestry. I’ve started creating a family tree, also through Ancestry.com, and I’m planning on asking my relatives to help me fill in the branches.

Going to college?  Give yourself the gift of good grades with The Secrets of Top Students!

The Best Birthday Present Ever

My copies are here!

My copies are here!

Today is my birthday, but more importantly – for me, at least – it’s also the official release date of my book, The Secrets of Top Students: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College! As a birthday gift from my publisher, I got fifty free copies of my book – which I now have to distribute to influential people, I suppose. (Anybody in the media or education want a copy?) But it’s such a cool feeling to hold my own book in my hands. It’s kind of like holding your baby for the first time.

It’s also been a crash course in marketing and publicity for me. I’ve already had some mentions in the press (for example, in the New York Post and the IMT Career Journal). And I’m lining up talks and at least one book signing. It’s pretty exciting, and a bit overwhelming!

I’m in the process of making a nice-looking flyer for my book, but for now, here it is in draft form:

Want to get better grades?

Then get The Secrets of Top Students:
Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Acing High School and College

Written by Stefanie Weisman,
Valedictorian of Stuyvesant High School
Highest GPA, Columbia University

With insight from 45 of the best students in the country

• How to take killer notes, improve reading comprehension, and write amazing papers
• How to get and stay motivated
• 50 Grade A test-taking tips
• Three game-changing learning techniques
• The mind-body connection
• And much, much more

“An insightful guide for high achievers—and those aspiring to such status—from an authoritative source.” –Alec Klein, Northwestern University professor, bestselling author and award-winning journalist

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine booksellers.
Published by Sourcebooks, Inc. ISBN: 9781402280795

How to fly for next to nothing

Here’s a list of all the places I’ve visited in the past three years: Italy (twice), Spain (twice), France, Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, Belize, Taiwan, and Japan. Oh, and some places in the U.S. And I get to fly for next to nothing! How do I do it?  By dating a pilot!   Yeah, I’m pretty lucky.  Check out my new article on SheKnows, “The Top 6 Reasons You Should Date a Pilot,” for more info. It’s just a little tongue-in-cheek piece I wrote. Hope you enjoy it!

Stefanie Weisman in Nice, France

Stefanie Weisman in Nice, France

Stefanie Weisman in Venice (Burano, to be precise).

Stefanie Weisman in Venice (Burano, to be precise).

Stefanie Weisman in Munich

Stefanie Weisman in Munich

Stefanie Weisman in Barcelona

Stefanie Weisman in Barcelona

Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Newsflash: Bull Leaping is Alive and Well

For some reason I can’t explain, I’m obsessed with Minoan history. I find it so fascinating that I wrote one of my qualifying papers on it for my Master’s in Art History. The Minoans, in case you don’t know, were a Bronze Age civilization that rose to power on Crete in the second millenium B.C. They had this practice called bull leaping, in which brave men and women performed acrobatic feats over the back of a live, raging bull. The Minoan works below present striking visual evidence of this practice. I saw them when I went to the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion:


Bull Leaping Fresco detail, Heraklion Archaeological Museum


Bull Leaping Fresco, Heraklion Archaeological Museum


Bull Leaper Statue, Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Bull's Head, Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Bull’s Head, Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The Minoans revered the bull.


I bring this up because I just found these amazing videos in youtube, in which young men and women in Spain do the exact same thing! If there’s any doubt as to whether bull leaping is physically possible, these videos will clear it right up. It’s incredible that this ritual has survived for thousands of years.

The bull leapers don’t always make it over, however. Warning: the video below contains some graphic images. (Specifically, at 4:07)

A Week in Provence

The following is a summary of my trip that may prove useful to other tourists. Plus it has pretty pictures! 🙂

Saturday – Got into Nice and slept for a looong time.  When we got up it was dark out.  We stopped at the Monoprix supermarket below our hotel and got some cheese, a baguette, and cookies.  I was surprised at how well-lit the city was at night.  There were a lot of people around and it felt very safe.  We walked down to the Promenade des Anglais and ate our food, which was simple and delicious.  There were people sitting on the beach at night.   They also had statues lit up in pastel colors in one of the squares.

Nice at night

Sunday – Walked over to the flower/ produce market at the Cours Saleya.  It was really quite charming.  They had tons of lavender products, fresh produce, mushrooms, cheeses, candied fruits, olives, and of course flowers.  We went into the old town and came across the Fenocchio gelato place, which has an amazing variety of flavors.  I got fig, which was pretty good.

The old town was gorgeous and I loved the mosaic tiling on the dome of the cathedral.

Nice cathedral

There was an old woman singing Edith Piaf songs in one of the squares.  I hadn’t expected to like Nice so much.  We walked down to the beach and were surprised by how rocky it was.  All the stones were perfectly smooth from erosion.

After this we went back to the hotel and got ready to go to Monaco.  We thought we would need to dress up to get into the casino, but it turns out that really wasn’t necessary.  We took a train to Monaco, though we had trouble getting tickets because the machine didn’t accept large bills.  We walked up to the Exotic Garden, which is more accurately a cactus and succulent garden, and saw incredible views of the city.  Most of the museums, gardens and buses were free that day.  We also took a tour of a cave at the bottom of the gardens, which was a big mistake.  The group was huge and it took forever to walk down to the bottom of the cave, and then we had to walk all the way back up.  All this to see a few stalactites and stalagmites.

When we got out of the cave the weather had taken a turn for the worse.  We got on a very crowded bus which took us down to the water and then we walked in the rain to get to the Maritime museum, which had interesting models of ships.  After this closed we took another bus which dropped us off near the Monte Carlo casino.  It was so rainy and dark that we wound up eating in an Italian restaurant in a very upscale mall, which was actually pretty good.

We walked a short way to the casino.  It was a beautiful building, but we were surprised at how small and quiet the main rooms were – not like Las Vegas at all, or a James Bond flick for that matter.  There were some slot machines in front and only four or five tables open to the public.   They had private rooms in the back but you had to pay extra to get in there.  We watched a roulette game for a few minutes and left.

Monday – Went to a pastry shop near Garibaldi square and got an amazing lemon tart and Napoleon (they call it a mille feuille, though Rob called it a Napoleon just to see what the lady would do – she just kind of smiled).  Then we walked to the Colline du Chateau, which has incredible views of Nice.  The water was all different colors – aquamarine, dark blue, etc.  We could see the planes landing at the airport.

Also went to the Jewish cemetery, where they had the remains of Holocaust victims.   Saw the ruins of the fortress and a medieval church, and a waterfall cascading over part of the fort.  Then we walked down to Cours Saleya, where they have a flea market on Mondays.

Took the shuttle back to the airport and got a rental car from Sixt.  It was a stick shift, and though Rob had driven one once, he basically had to relearn everything.  We could barely pull out of the parking lot, and we kept stalling – it was a little scary.  It took about ten minutes just to figure out how to go in reverse.  Rob was practically a pro by the end of the trip, though.  I was the navigator and always told him where to turn on the traffic circles.

We decided to drive to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, since it seemed like a quick trip we could do before going to our next hotel.  We decided not to do the perfume museum since we could go to some of the perfume factories for free.  Went to the Fragonard and Molinard factories – couldn’t see too much of the actual process, but the Fragonard shop was very busy.  Before we left town we stopped in a bakery and got a croissant and a Tropezienne – I had never had a Tropezienne before and it was AMAZING.

Tropezienne – the best pastry in the world!

We took the road towards Draguignan on the way back to the highway.  It took us forever to get to there – the road was so curvy and dark.  We were afraid we’d be too late for our next hotel to let us in.  Finally we got to the auto-route and drove straight to St. Remy de Provence.  The Canto Cigalo hotel was a little bit outside of town on a country road.  We checked into our room which was quite nice – everything had cicada decorations, as Canto Cigalo means song of the cicada.  Then we went out in search of a restaurant.

Tuesday – Drove to Arles in the morning.  We parked near the medieval walls and went into the old town.  Got a duck and crudite sandwich from a shop, then walked to the square where they have an obelisk from the old Roman circus.  Saw the western portal of the church of St. Trophime, which was very impressive.  Went into the cloister of St. Trophime, which was under renovation and didn’t wow us.  Later on we went into the church itself, which was dark and narrow.  The western façade is by far the most interesting thing.

St. Trophime portal

Afterwards we went to the Arles ampitheater, which is still in use.  It’s in very good condition, made of beautiful white stone, and used to serve as a fortress for medieval houses built inside.  They have bullfights here but in the Arlesien ones they don’t kill the bull.  After this we went to the nearby Roman theater, which is much less intact.

We walked through the old town to the Espace van Gogh, where the mentally ill painter was hospitalized.  They were planting flowers in the garden inside.  As we left Arles we passed Place Lamartine, where van Gogh’s yellow house used to be.  There’s just a plaque there now – it’s not a very nice part of the city.

We decided to drive around the French countryside and stop at whatever looked interesting.  We found some great stuff this way.  First we went to Montmajour Abbey, a huge structure which we had seen from a distance on our way to Arles.  This was a massive Benedictine abbey with a necropolis with tombs cut into stone – I lay down in one.  I’ve never seen a necropolis like that before.  We climbed up the tower and had an incredible view of the countryside, including some Camargue white horses.

Montmajour Abbey necropolis, as seen from the tower

After this we followed signs for a Roman aqueduct, which turned out to be the Barbegal aqueduct and mill (there weren’t any descriptions so I found this out later).  We could climb on top of the ruins, and there was a beautiful open field at the end where we heard cows mooing and sheep baaing.

We kept driving aimlessly after this and came upon some gorgeous rock formations.  It turned out we were headed towards the hilltop town of Les Baux de Provence without realizing it.  We got here after all the tourists had left, so it was empty and quiet.  The town was so amazing and unexpected – it was a whole medieval city on the side of a cliff.  The view was incredible.  We found out later that there was a ‘dead city’ here too – actually the destroyed chateau – but it was closed when we got there.  The ‘live city’ seemed very small and empty, but there were a few restaurants still open.

View from Les Baux

Wednesday – I found out they had a market in St. Remy on Wednesdays so I walked into town.  The market was very cute and had all kinds of goods, though I think I liked Nice’s market better.  There were stalls in a number of streets and squares throughout St. Remy.

Next we drove to some local sights in St. Remy.  First up was St. Paul de Mausole, the insane asylum where van Gogh stayed, which is in a very beautiful Romanesque abbey.  We saw van Gogh’s reconstructed room, some old metal tubs from the asylum, the cloister, and the beautiful garden where van Gogh painted some of his most famous works.  There were some persimmon (I think) trees dropping their fruit in the garden.  It must be even lovelier in the summer, when the lavender and irises are in bloom.  From here we walked to Les Antiques, two very well-preserved Roman structures (a triumphal arch and a mausoleum).  We also walked to the entrance to Glanum, the archaeological site of the Greco-Roman settlement, but didn’t want to take the time to go in.

Next we drove to Pont du Gard, one of the largest Roman aqueducts ever built.  It was pretty incredible.  Right next to it is a cave where they found Paleolithic remains.  We walked across the 18th-century bridge to the side where they have a museum and café.  I was starving and we got a Nutella crepe and a cheese crepe – so good!  I think in the summer you can walk across the top level of the aqueduct, but it was closed when we went.  The museum was extremely well done.  It was a multi-media experience with the sound of running water, Romans hammering and sawing, scenes from a Richard Burton movie showing how an aqueduct was made, etc.  We stayed there till it closed.  Then we walked down to the water level under the aqueduct – the river only flows under one of the arches now.  It’s a breathtaking sight.  The top level of the aqueduct is lit up at night.  Oh, and they have 1,000-year old olive trees transplanted from Spain growing nearby.

Pont du Gard

We planned to eat in one of the towns between Pont du Gard and St. Remy, but we couldn’t find anything.  We stopped in Tarascon, which has an amazing castle where you can still see the holes made by cannonballs, but we didn’t see any normal restaurants.  Went back to St. Remy and spent a long time deciding on a restaurant.  Eventually we went to Le Bistro des Alpilles.  We got there kind of late (at least, late for the St. Remy area – I think it was only after 9 pm) and they almost didn’t serve us, but finally they let us in.  I got the pot au feu (a kind of beef stew) which was very good, and a tarte tatin, which is like an apple pie only twice as delicious.

Thursday – Checked out of the hotel and drove to Avignon.  I was amazed by how intact the medieval walls are.  The old city was much larger, livelier and more impressive than I expected.  We could have easily spent a whole day just walking around.  We passed an ancient Templar chapel, then went to the Palais des Papes.  I was blown away by the immensity of the palace.  I had never been inside such a large, intact medieval structure before.  The audioguide was pretty good.  We got to see the huge dining hall and kitchen, the treasury with hidden compartments in the floor, and much more.  Most impressive were the pope’s private rooms, which are still decorated with medieval frescoes of bird cages and hunting scenes.  Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures in there.  Those popes really knew how to live it up.

After this we went to the pont d’Avignon, or Pont St. Benezet, which we had paid extra for when we bought out tickets for the palace. I wasn’t familiar with the children’s song about this bridge, but it’s an interesting medieval structure with two chapels in the middle.  Oh, and it doesn’t go all the way across – half the bridge was washed away several centuries ago.

View of Avignon from Pont d’Avignon

Walked around the city a little more, then went back to our car – we didn’t want to arrive at our next hotel too late.  We thought we would find a cute restaurant in one of the towns between Avignon and our next hotel in Vence, but all the places we stopped in seemed practically deserted.  They had a few little bars or pizza places, that was it.  We literally looked for a restaurant for 2 ½ hours and were getting rather desperate.  Plus we needed gas, and let me just say that buying gas for a rental car in a foreign country is quite an ordeal.

Finally we got to Cannes, where we thought some places would be open late.  It was past 10 pm when we found Lou Souleou, a restaurant right on the beach, where a super friendly waiter told us their kitchen was still open!  Rob got frog legs for an appetizer, which I had never tried before – they were amazing!  Like miniature, extremely tender chicken wings.  It was one of the best dinners we had all trip.  Afterwards we drove along the water through Cannes and Antibes, saw some amazing hotels, and found our hotel in Vence.  It was pretty ugly, but it did the job.

Friday – We had wanted to check out Vence and St. Paul de Vence this morning, but there was no time.  We also didn’t get to see the Camargue National Park, which was on my list of things to do.  There’s so much to see in this area!  I definitely could have used a few weeks here.

Give your child the gift of great grades.  Order a copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!


Book Photoshoot – or, how I learned to channel my inner model

It’s been ages since my last post.  I’ve been working on my manuscript nonstop for the past few weeks, and the last thing I wanted to do at the end of each day was sit down and write a blog post.  But now the manuscript’s DONE – give or take a few edits – and I am submitting it to my editor on Monday.  I can barely believe I’ve written a book!!!  (For more info about Rise to the Top: The Valedictorian’s Guide to High School and College, click here.)

One thing I did make time for during my busy writing days was THE PHOTOSHOOT.  My publisher, Sourcebooks Inc., needs some pictures for publicity purposes.  By coincidence, a very talented photographer I know, Christopher Angello, asked if he could take pictures of me.  Perfect timing!  I had a blast being a model for a day – it was almost as much fun as writing.  After four locations and five wardrobe changes, here are the results.  Of course, not all of them are appropriate for a book, but I love the way came out.  Hope you enjoy them!

Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Follow the yellow brick road – or, why I loved third grade

A couple of weeks ago I got this message through my blog:

I am trying to do a follow up on my students from PS 166 class 3-305.
I believe that I have found you. I am extremely proud of all your accomplishments. Please email me back with an update.
I would love to meet with you to discuss old times.

It was my third grade teacher! How cute is that?  Suddenly I felt like I was nine years old again, learning my multiplication tables and playing the recorder.  Third grade was a very good year…

So we met for lunch in the city the following week and reminisced about old times.  She looked the same except she had straight hair instead of the reddish curls I remember.  It was so weird to be sitting next to her as an adult!

We had both brought pictures from the defining event of that year: the production of The Wizard of Oz we put on.  I played Dorothy. Actually, I was one of two Dorothies. My voice was too small and quiet to hold up for the entire show, so it was decided that another girl would play the lead for the second half.  I was “Dorothy #1.” 🙂

Follow the yellow brick road! I still have one of those paper corn stalks from the set in my closet. I am such a hoarder.

From left to right, Clint Borzoni, Armita (?), Stefanie Weisman, Danny Ho, Michael Petrocelli. I still remember their names! We had such amazing costumes. (I love the dinosaur dioramas in the background, too.)

Me as Dorothy, with the Lion and Tin Man in the background. I love the tree costumes!

We had really great costumes, most of them hand-made. My mother sewed this Dorothy costume from a pattern she got at the Five and Dime – can you believe it?

My former teacher said that it got harder and harder for her to put on plays like this as the pressure to teach for standardized tests mounted.  What a shame.  This was one of the defining moments of my childhood, and you can see how much love and care we put into this play.  More kids should be given this opportunity.

It’s official – I have a book contract!

I recently signed with Sourcebooks, Inc., and I couldn’t ask for a better publisher for my book, tentatively titled Rise to the Top: The Valedictorian’s Guide to Academic Success in High School and College.  My book will be in excellent company – Sourcebooks is also the publisher of Harlan Cohen’s The Naked Roommate (the #1 book on college life with over 125,000 copies sold), Christie Garton’s U Chic, the Fiske Guides, the Gruber Test Prep series, and much, much more. Check out their book list here.

It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to publish a book, and I hope this is the first of many. I’m thrilled to be able to share my study techniques with high school and college students across the country. None of this would have been possible without my wonderful agent, Coleen O’Shea, and my friends and family – thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I am in extreme writing mode right now, and I love it. To read more about my book (and to sign up for my book list and contest), please go here.

Picture of Stefanie Weisman