Thursday, October 1, 2009

Review: College Prep Genius

About a month ago, I posted about College Prep Genius here.  I'm not going to repeat that post, except to explain that this is a set of a workbook, book and four DVDs that makes up an SAT prep class, designed to help students apply logic to taking the SAT and PSAT.

What we have done at this point:
  1. Took a practice SAT, minus the essay, at a pace of roughly an hour worth per day. 
  2. Read through the College Prep Genius introductory sections
  3. Watched the overview DVD with the workbook
  4. Read through College Prep Genius Critical Reading section
  5. Watched the DVD for Reading
  6. Took another practice SAT, only the Reading sections
My impressions of the program are mixed.  First, the intro section of the book needed some serious editing, as information was repeated multiple times, and the typos/grammatical errors were extremely distracting.  Honestly, I'd recommend *not* reading it and just watching the DVD.  The overall information is virtually the same, but the DVD is organized, and doesn't have the typos.  The overview DVD was good, and seemed to motivate Connor far more than reading the material did.

The information is great.  A lot of detail about how the test is organized.  Specifics about what a "good" score is for the SAT and PSAT, and what that translates to in college entrance or scholarships.  Connor was easily able to set a goals and had a good idea as to what to expect.

As for the errors, I just opened the book up randomly in the intro section.  The first sentence on page 10 reads: "Treat the test as challenging puzzle that can be figured out logically."  I'm probably being overly picky, and this isn't the best example, but it should either be "puzzles" or "a challenging puzzle" as the sentence just doesn't work as written.  (And yeah, my grammar isn't always fantastic... but I'm not publishing an SAT Prep program either!)  There were frequent missed words.  Even more frequently, there are weird verb endings. ("You should be able to find the answering the cited part or right around it." p. 42, which is not in the intro but in the critical reading section.  I didn't go through the book with a red pencil... I'm just flipping through pages glancing around for examples.)

As for the organization, in re-reading it right now to write the review, my impression is that it isn't written to be read straight through.  If you just go to the section you need -- FAQs, Extra Transcript Information, etc. -- and read only one section, I think the intro is more valuable.  Don't read it straight through.  And don't force your kid to either.

Once we got into the meat of the program, I liked the text more.  Connor read through the Critical Reading section, practiced with the problems presented, and worked on getting a grasp of the acronyms.  He spent about two weeks on that.  A frequent comment from him was, "That makes so much sense!"  He then watched the DVD, and it was clear some of the information was clicking that he hadn't picked up in the book.  He enjoyed the DVD.

Now, I have to say that I'm not convinced about all the acronyms.  Probably it's one of those learning-style things, but for me anyway (and Connor seems this way too), acronyms work for memorizing order of relatively random things... but if you give me a logical process, I do better learning the steps and practicing them, rather than adding a new step of remembering some acronym, remembering what it stands for, and what it means.  If *I* were the one taking this course, I would find a couple of the acronyms to be worthwhile and I would memorize them, jotting them down on my test book when I took it.  But the majority I would not bother to memorize.  I do believe some of them are useful, but I'm allowing Connor to make those decisions himself.  I won't be quizzing him on these.

Finally, last week, he took the three Critical Reading sections of a practice SAT.  Confession time:  I was nervous -- I was anxious to see a dramatic increase in his score.  On the pretest, his Critical Reading section translated to a score of 440-500, as I posted a month ago.  On the test he just completed, his answers translated to a score of 440-500. No change at all.  I was disappointed, especially as he told me that he felt so much more confident that he had done well this time.  (Okay, let me try to rephrase that.  I'm not disappointed in his scores... his scores are fantastic for a child who isn't even old enough to sign up for an account with the College Board!  I was disappointed that there wasn't an improvement.)

I dug a little deeper, and I am feeling a lot better about this now though.  On the first test, he answered less than 2/3 of the questions.  Mostly, it was that he skipped questions, but sometimes he ran out of time.  On the test this week, he answered all but one question.  Since the SAT penalizes you for each incorrect answer, this means that he maintained his score while answering questions significantly faster, and answering at least a dozen questions he thought were too hard last time.  That is an accomplishment, and I don't want to minimize it.  Maybe he will need to work on knowing when not to answer a question.  Or maybe the next step will take care of that.  Because now he'll have significantly more wrong answers to work with!

The process at this point is to go over the questions he got wrong, using forms provided in the book.  Each day, he'll be going over four questions that he missed, rewriting them, figuring out what he did wrong and why he got it wrong, and explaining it to me.  He'll be creating his own study journal.  (They don't specify how many to do in a day... but four questions fit on a single form, so that is what I plan on assigning!)

Once he completes that, we will move on to the math section of the book.  I will assign him to review his study journal at times though, so he will continue to see the material.  After working through the rest of the process, I think this is where the true value of this program lies... in giving you a logical format to use in looking at your own mistakes and your own pattern of errors.  And to study from that.

I think it is going to be fascinating to see how he does with the math section, since that is where he is naturally the strongest.  In looking the section over, I think there are tips in there that will help him tremendously.  Of course, starting high school geometry this past week is likely to help too...

And the writing section?  There he has some serious room for improvement.  I suspect doing that section of the course will bring his writing scores more into line with his reading and math.  And although we don't truly care about this particular score at this point, seeing it improve would still be nice!

I do believe this to be a very good product, and I am thrilled to have had the chance to review it.  This will get used in my home, probably with everyone eventually.  Of course, I am one who believes that some practice with timed tests is generally a good thing, and I believe that learning to apply logic to test-taking situations is a very good thing.  There are a number of "real life" situations where being calm and logical in a multiple choice test situation is good -- driver's license exams, workplace tests, and professional exams, to name a few.

Bottom line:  if you have a student doing high school work and even remotely considering college, I think you should go check out the College Prep Genius website.  Poke around.  Read the FAQ section.  Sign up for their newsletter. Poke around some more.  Pray about it.  If any of it resonates with you, seriously consider a purchase (the DVD course right now is available for $79).  And then don't feel like you have to put in the hours they recommend, or memorize everything.  Use what works.  There is plenty of value here.  Certainly more than in most of the thousand-some dollar SAT prep courses I see advertised.

I will add to this review throughout the year, as Connor finishes up the math and writing sections, and most certainly if he does take an actual SAT test.  I'll create a short post, and link it here.

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.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive College Prep Genius for free from the vendor in question.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

1 comment:

Lori Watson said...

Very thorough review!