College Visits can Help Motivate Students to Study Harder for the SAT

Some students are self motivated, some are not.  Some can become more motivated with small classes and individual focus and attention.  Some simply grow into caring more about academics and school, or at least the rewards that can come with a good education.

One way to motivate students is by taking them to visit the colleges that they might be attending a few years down the line.  In her book “The Perfect Score Project”, SAT mother Debbie Stier says that if she could have done one thing differently for her son, it would have been to take him on his college tours sooner.

The college visits gave her son a tangible sense of what was at stake with the SAT and motivated him to do the hard work that was needed in order to test well.

High school students get so focused on … well…. high school.  It is such an all-encompassing world for them.  Getting outside of their “box” and getting a real sense of just what their bigger world may be in the next few years can be incredibly instructive and liberating.

College visits are not the only way to motivate students.  Some will just grow into a stronger sense of what is going to be needed to succeed in the years ahead as they get older.  Others can be motivated by a favorite teacher or class.  Hopefully students who work with me on SAT prep will come away more motivated to perform well academically.

Still for some students, a concrete look at what their new world could be like just a year or two down the road will help bring into focus where they are headed and what they want.   And that bigger awareness of who they could be can create the motivation for them to do what they need to do in order to make that possibility a reality.

Getting Ready to Work, versus Working

It is a lot easier to get ready to work than to actually work.  It is a lot easier to review material by reading over it rather than covering up the answers and working the problem from scratch.

Sadly, improvements in scores are only going to come from the hard mental work that comes with practice.  Skills need to be automatic if you want to see gains on test scores, and the only way to achieve that level of mastery is through solving problems from scratch, without looking at the solution before you start.

If it is hard to get going, then grit your teeth, and sit down and do just two problems  Or set a timer and work solidly and hard for 15 minutes … you can do anything for 15 mintues.  Promise yourself you can quit when the timer rings.  It is sometimes a lot easier to get yourself started if you promise yourself that you won’t have to endure it for a long time.   And if you work for 20 minutes or do three problems, no one is going to complain.

SAT Prep — a 100 mile trail run, not a 50 meter sprint.

How long does it take to prep for the SAT?  The short answer to this is that major improvements in one’s score can require A LOT of time and effort.  Advantage, one of the best (and most expensive) test prep companies, suggests that students spend a year preparing for the SAT.   And while on the one hand, a year may not be necessary, it is also clear that real gains are not going to be made without a fair amount of time and effort.

First, there simply is a lot of SAT material to cover.  Going through the math or the verbal portion of the practice test in detail, as I do in tutorials and classes, is not a fast process.

With a class of 3-6 students, it can take 6 class sessions to go  through the 58 questions that make up the calculator and non-calculator math portions of a practice test.  This includes covering the material in detail, and backing up into the nuts and bolts of how the problems work.

And those 6 class sessions are just for covering the two math portions of one practice test.  There are 8 practice tests in The Official SAT Study Guide.  And there are the verbal portions of each practice test as well as the math.

In addition, once students get into the  nitty gritty of mastering material that they don’t really know,  they are going to have to spend a lot of time working problems.   Even with just a smattering of garden variety gaps in knowledge and understanding, some serious diligence, time, and effort can be required in order to fill those gaps.

Going through all 8 practice tests, clearly involves a LOT OF WORK.  You don’t necessarily need to go through all 8 — the previous version of The Official SAT Study Guide only contained 4 practice tests.  Cranking through all 8 of those practice tests may only be within the purview of students aiming at Ivy League or other top notch schools.  But the more you practice, the more you are going to raise your score.

The SAT is offered 7 times per year (see the SAT Test Dates page for dates), and most students these days take the SAT more than once.  Students can start studying for the SAT the summer before their Junior year (after they have had geometry), and take their first SAT in August or October of their Junior year.  It isn’t necessary to start that early, but it is helpful.  Students can then study and retake, working to improve their score  up until their final SAT in their Senior year.

It helps to have goals and a timeline for the entire process.  A longer time frame is nice because it allows you to tackle the material in a steady, organized fashion, and it leaves time for breaks and circling back to subjects that need a second pass.  Prepping for the SAT is better strategized as a 100 mile trail run than as a 50 meter sprint.  And there is no substitute for preparing.  There is no substitute for work.


So is all this SAT Prep Worth It?  Isn’t it a lot of work? Yes…..but

This may seem like a huge investment in time and energy and money.  IT IS.

But getting into the college of your choice, possibly with a scholarship, is a big deal.

And realize that the skills gained are going to be precisely the skills needed for  students to succeed once they get to college.  Those improved skills can mean the difference between students feeling like they are always struggling just to get by, or feeling like success just requires enough elbow grease.

And when it comes to the math, the skills gained can be the difference between students doing well or doing poorly on their college’s math placement exam.

Students that do poorly on college math placement exams will be required to take prerequisite math courses that don’t count as college credit, but that you still pay college tuition for.  Students that do well will be able to go straight into the required college level math courses.

College Math Placement Exam Flow Chart

As a math tutor in Tucson, I can’t tell you how many University of Arizona college students I’ve helped who were taking required-but-not-for-college-credit math courses because they went through the end of their high school math career running on fumes and then did poorly on the U of A math placement exam.  SAT math work can improve those placement exam scores!!!!

So in addition to improving SAT results, SAT prep yields the silver lining that students enter college better prepared.  And the math prep may save money on college tuition and help avoid the scenario where a student  ends up taking 9 or 10 semesters to graduate.  Serious prep can mean a serious academic upgrade!


Different Students, Different Strategies

Clearly how much time, energy and money you want to invest in SAT prep depends on the student and his or her background and goals.

A straight-A student from a good high school may be able to get to the 97th or 98th percentile just by working their way through The Official SAT Study Guide all on their own.  The Guide has answers to all of the questions in the back of the book — so this is possible.

Students with really weak math backgrounds may need to spend 6 months doing Kumon math or Mathnasium before even starting SAT math prep.

Most students, however, will benefit greatly from the  support and help that they can get from classes and/or tutorials.  Students who are willing to put in the time and effort can improve their SAT scores, and at the same time improve their academic foundations.

Parental support and commitment really, really helps.  But it is student diligence and commitment that is utterly essential.  At the end of the day, it is the student who has to put in the time and effort.

The effort that students are willing to invest, and the desired outcome, will vary from student to student.  My goal is to get individual students to where they want to go.

My hope is to encourage and inspire students so that they aim for greater heights and come out the other end of working with me not just with higher SAT scores, but also with the increased confidence that comes with a stronger academic foundation.

I want students who work with me to end up with a better mastery of mathematics and the English language.   I want them to enter college more prepared and with a stronger academic background.


Understanding and Familiarity are NOT the same as Mastery!

 Emotional and Intellectual Fortitude Required!!

It requires a certain amount of emotional and intellectual fortitude to do the hard work required in studying for the SAT.  High school students are usually just beginning to develop that kind of sticktoittiveness — nobody really likes doing that kind of hard work.

Coupled with this, students seem to have a intrinsic tendency to over estimate their knowledge and skill level.   They often equate understanding, or being familiar with material, with having mastered that material.  Students tend to think that if they’ve understood it, they’ve got it.  And of course if they’ve got it — no point in working on it.

With math in particular, nothing could be further from the truth.   Unless you are in a league with Newton, Einstein, and Hawking, mastering math is going to require practice — lots and lots of practice.

Proctored practice tests, classes and tutoring provide the reality check, the support, the environment, and the tools needed for creating understanding, encouraging hard work, and gaining real mastery.

Proctored tests let a student know where they really stand.  Classes provide a run through and review of problems and material.  Follow up tutoring creates a degree of accountability, and encourages students to buckle down and work the assigned review problems.

Proctored tests, classes and tutoring can all test a student’s ability to do a problem.  They can determine if a student has an illusion of mastery based on the fact that the material looks familiar, or real mastery that will actually result in superior test scores.


And after the SAT… Vacation

After all the hard work one puts in on bringing up SAT scores, it is time for a vacation, or at least a good break.

That senior year of high school is really busy what with finishing SATs, submitting college admission applications, and that final semester of high school.  Hopefully at the end of it all, there will be a special holiday and some real time off before college starts!