The SAT Test Prep Report

There is a gem waiting for the college application that any child can start now...

The SAT test prep report

In my previous blog, I spent 7 years researching cognitive skills and filling gaps in curriculum to produce these skills. There are big gaps to fill, starting in 2nd grade, because school curriculum is designed to crush cognitive skills before 5th grade so that the child is completely unprepared to navigate pre-algebra. If you have a child in 2nd grade, read my curriculum page from the old blog and get to work. If you have a child in 5th or 6th grade, just read the basics of the approach and catch up in this issue.

The approach to developing cognitive skills is mostly age independent. As I wrote, tested, and fixed the cognitive skills material, my cognitive skills increased tremendously. If a child learns these skills at a very young age, the child is labeled a genius. While the child slogs through 3rd, 4th and 5th grade totally bored out of his mind, the child is labeled an underachiever. Kids who work super hard and get A's without cognitive skills are labeled overachievers. Kids who catch up by high school are labeled bright and capable. Kids who master cognitive skills by age 18 are labeled MIT freshmen.

What we're doing now

It should come as no surprise to readers from my previous blog that we're plodding through an SAT test prep book 5 or 6 problems at a time. The summer before 6th grade, we're doing math. In a few months, we'll start the reading comprehension section, only one passage and 10 questions per week. I doubt will ever pick up the pace. We might do a full math test or 2 or 3 reading comp questions in one day. No time management, no endurance tests, no outside reading. I think this will be good enough for 1100 or 1150 by April of 7th grade.

5 questions is usually the magic number. Since most of the material is new, we're just plodding along learning. Occasionally, we'll come across something like p(t) = t2/2 -300t + b, and solve for b if p(1) = 100. What is p(5)? This question involves a 20 minute discussion of what p(t) means and why we use this notation.

We spent a bit of time in 4th grade learning some pre-algebra. Mostly we just skipped it, because practicing pre-algebra for the sake of pre-algebra is really boring and pointless. When we get to a pre-algebra topic required for an SAT question, we take a break to back-fill the skill and do a little practice if needed.

What we're getting out of it

We're no where near actual SAT preparation. Instead, we're settling for more important skills, like figuring out what a really complicated question is asking, organizing a solution strategy, devising general approaches to minimize wrong answers. One pass through the question to realize we don't know what it means, one to five more passes to understand it, a few passes to organize the solution strategy, and then a few attempts to get the correct answer.

Each week, I repeat my open offer to do the questions with my child, and each week my offer is politely rejected until the questions are completed and many answered incorrectly. By the way, at a pace of about 10 questions a week, the math section is quietly being completed. At this pace, we'll subject 1,000 SAT questions to thorough analysis in the next 2 years.

I'm not concerned that we'll end up way ahead in school even though that is the direct result. I'm focused on picking up a full range of skills to tackle new, tricky, confusing material. Once these skills are learned, there is nothing in school that will cause anxiety or stress. It will just be the usually challenge with the learned responses to over come it.

A note on anxiety

I'm very careful to stress an environment for this exercise that is devoid of time constraints and the need to get correct answers. We never, ever look at the solutions. We spend time with each question identifying the element that makes a wrong answer likely, why each question is formulated with many confusing parts, and how we can lay out different approaches to the same answer. If we can't solve a problem while reviewing the work in 15 minutes, we'll take 30 minutes. Sometimes this happens.

As a direct result of this approach, test taking is a stress free activity. We never break from this approach.

My kids are notoriously slow test takers in school. This 'slowness' skill helps a lot with the untimed MAP test, which is our biannual challenge until 9th grade. The SAT practice books are our only study aid for the MAP tests. Please note that the older child did in fact finish the SAT in 7th grade without learning or practicing time management skills. He also met his MAP score goals in 7th grade. I suspect that the second child will do even better. Regardless, the 'big' tests that this child will face in the coming years are not as hard as a 12 year old spending 4 1/2 hours on the SAT. The PSAT is only 2 1/2 hours. The MAP tests only have 50 questions each.

A note on the competition

There are quite a few books, websites, and forums on the SAT. I've begun reading them. I have seen no indication that any of the 'experts' have the slightest idea how to steer a child toward a better score. All I see is platitudes and short cuts disguised as advice. While I steer my child toward mastering the Big Five academic skills, the skills that are fundamental to success on the SAT, I may start expounding on these in the context of the SAT on later articles.

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