Thursday, August 27, 2009

Something we've started working on: College Prep Genius

So after telling you about Connor working through Career, College and High School planning last week, it seems only natural to start thinking about some scary acronyms. Ones like SAT and PSAT. We've been talking for awhile about having Connor start taking some of the high school tests so that we will have a better idea as to where he stands. But, yikes! How to start the process?

Enter College Prep Genius, a program we are fortunate enough to be able to review as part of the TOS Review Crew. I'm here to tell you a bit about it as I get going on figuring it out.

First, why do SAT prep work in the first place? I never did, and my scores on the PSAT, ACT and SAT (yeah, I took all three) were decent. (Okay, okay, I was a National Merit Scholar, so that must mean they were more than decent.) I think I did take a practice PSAT from the little exam book the College Board provides, and I spent a couple hours reviewing the types of questions for the SAT (probably during my business law class, as I certainly never was paying attention!)

But now there are some other things to consider. First is the relatively new writing portion of the SAT (introduced in 2005). That essay is unlike anything you would ever encounter in real life. At a minimum, a student should get some practice with writing an essay for the SAT, otherwise, they are not going to have a clue as to what to do in the actual test.

More than that, though, College Prep Genius is specifically designed to help students apply logic in taking these tests, thereby increasing their test scores. Higher test scores make it more likely that your student can find scholarships -- and who couldn't use help with paying for school?

The product we received is a book and workbook, College Prep Genius, and a 4 DVD class, Master the SAT. I skimmed the book, then actually read the introduction section.

We have not started actually using the material yet (what we've started is doing a practice SAT, which they advise doing before you begin the course). But here are some things I have learned, and why I am excited about this.

First off, they highly recommend starting SAT prep in 9th grade (7th grade if participating in one of the Talent Search programs). The basic idea is that you start early, mastering the logic of taking the test, and then you'll face less stress when it comes time to do the tests that count.

The SAT (and PSAT) are not tests about knowledge. They are tests of using logic and reasoning. Can you use critical thinking skills to figure out the answers? While your student may not have taken high school geometry, the logic and critical reading skills can be taught and practiced now, so when they do have the background provided in geometry, they will already be equipped to do well on those sections of the test.

The College Prep Genius program recommends a few things. Taking the test multiple times in a row, getting through Geometry before your junior year, taking a logic course early in high school, and reading lots and lots of classic literature were a few of the things that stood out to me.

One thing I really like is that this isn't just a book about acing some test. There are eight parts, split into 30 chapters. The sections include things I expected -- tips on the various parts of the test and information about the test itself. But there are also sections on transcripts, scholarship searches, journals, and checklists. I especially appreciated quotes like, "Colleges are not just looking for 'smart' kids, but students who are well-rounded. This includes doing volunteer work in the community and showing leadership ability." This is the intro to the page on transcripts.

The actual course recommendations consists of roughly the following:
  1. Take a practice SAT for a baseline measurement
  2. Read through College Prep Genius a couple of times
  3. Learn the acronyms for each section
  4. Watch Master the SAT on DVD (or take the live class)
  5. and then it is a matter of practice and actual tests
We're modifying this schedule slightly, for two reasons. One, Connor is 12 and he has pesky siblings. Two, I have a deadline to write up the review. So, our plan is roughly the following:
  1. Taking a practice SAT, minus the essay, doing roughly an hour worth per day. (check!)
  2. Reading through College Prep Genius once (intro and Reading only). (barely started)
  3. Watching the DVD (overview and Reading only) and learning the acronyms as we work through that.
  4. Taking another practice SAT, only the Reading section.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 for math, then for writing.
  6. Take a full practice SAT, more realistically this time.
  7. Analyzing what we have learned, and whether or not he is ready to take the test for real.
  8. Continuing to practice in one form or another... a combination of the book, the DVD, practice tests, and starting to work on the essays as well. How much practice will depend on when we want him to actually take the test.
For the record, the results of his practice SAT translated to scores of 440-500 on Critical Reading, and 490-550 on Math. I refuse to think about his abysmal score in writing (which I expected) as nothing I've looked at really cares about that portion anyway.

Watch this space... I plan to post in about a month with an actual review of this test prep program. The plan is to have "after" scores for Reading for sure, and maybe even Math. And I'll update with the "after" score overall once we do get through the whole thing.

If you are even remotely interested, I do recommend heading over to the website and signing up for their newsletter. Signing up gets you a report about free college too. The link here is to the DVD course, which right now is available for $79.

You can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about College Prep Genius at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

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