Every year, about this time, I am asked “What is the best way to help my kid get a good score on the SAT?” If your child is already a junior or senior, the unequivocal answer is “Get her into the Tutoring Club for our Prep class!”. If your child is younger, then the answer is much more complicated but also presents more opportunity. Following are some of the techniques that are most useful:
1. Register for the SAT problem a day. As much as I’m not fond of the College Board as an organization, this is actually a great service. Every day they will send you one problem and then present well-written explanations of the correct answer. Virtually every child in Bellevue School District has the basic skills to solve SAT problems from 7th or 8th grade on. Getting them to do one problem a day is not hard and will pay huge dividends later when they are completely comfortable with the syntax and style of SAT questions. Further, any grammar, vocabulary or math they learn in the meantime is only a plus.
2. Take practice tests periodically. I like to see 9th graders taking practice tests once a year. No pressure, no importance on scores but, you wouldn’t try to set a record your first time running a marathon. Why would you expect a good score the first time you try a 4.5 hour test. You can get the College Board’s book of practice tests or we (the Tutoring Club) give them all the time (give us a call).
3. READ!!!! Something harder than Capt. Underpants and Saddle Club. Reading builds your vocabulary and reading deeper material improves your ability to decode pithy passages as well as your general depth of thought. Make sure your 8th grade or higher son or daughter reads a “100 best books for young minds” kind of book or classic novel each year. At least one! Preferably 2 or 3 (or 5!!).
4. Do a puzzle. If your student is strong at math, get them to try a crossword or two (help them so it’s fun!). If reading is their thing then have them to a Sudoku or Logic Puzzle. There are oodles of them available for free on the web or a great stores like Math n’ Stuff in Seattle (www.math-n-stuff.com). The SAT isn’t so much about IQ as it is about being able to puzzle out meaning. The more they like and are used to this way of thinking, the better they will be at the SAT.
5. Practice mental math. Calculators are allowed and recommended on the SAT but, needing to use a calculator to square 5 or divide 2 by 1/2 is a waste of time and fraught with the chance of input error. Playing games that involve calculation (Pass the Pigs, Pinochle, Cribbage, Monopoly) will firm up their ability to do mental math. For kids needing extra, targeted attention I recommend flash cards, in very small, regular doses!
Bellevue School District does a dang fine job with our kids and doing well on the SAT is not hard if you start preparing early. None of the above have to be onerous nor does your student need to know that you are helping them with their SATs (except when you ask them to do the problem a day). Start early and be consistent; they will do well.