Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: SAT Prep Course

The SAT.  <shudder>

I remember testing in high school.  I took the PSAT my junior year and did fairly well on it.  Absolutely no test preparation, and I had no idea what to expect.  I found out I was eligible to be a National Merit winner, but wasn't really told much about the process.

I took the ACT sometime later in my junior year, because that was the test preferred by most of the colleges in my area.  Did fairly well on that too, but that one I did actually try to prepare for, using some sort of practice materials the guidance counselor had.

Then I found out that I had to take the SAT to continue in the National Merit process.  Again, I bugged my guidance counselor, and was eventually given some little booklet with some explanation and a practice test.  And yes, I scored well enough on that to actually be a National Merit Scholar, which helped pay for my college degree.

With that background, I do understand the importance of the SAT, for college-bound kids especially.  And since my kids do not get much in the way of standardized testing experience, it is really important that they do something to prepare.

Enter College Prep Genius, and their SAT Prep Course.  I actually reviewed this program two years ago, which was tough as Connor was only in 7th grade at the time.  Reviewing it with him now was so much better!  They have redone parts of the program, so since we are actually now close to him taking the exam, it is very nice to have the latest version.

One of the best things about the new version is that all the typos seem to have been fixed.  That was one of the most frustrating aspects of the version I reviewed before.

So what is it?  Four DVDs, plus a HUGE textbook, and a much skinnier workbook, all for $99.  A student can work through the text, workbook and DVDs for a couple of hours a week, and end up quite prepared for the SAT.

The first section (60 pages!) explains why this test matters.  It talks a lot about scholarships and opportunities that are available when you do well on this test, and Connor found this fairly motivational.  Honestly, just that pep talk and the information on the entire SAT process is probably worth the cost of the program.

But of course, there is far more.  There is a DVD for each section of the exam: critical reading, math and writing, with corresponding sections in the text and workbooks.  Split into 12 DVD lessons, each section is a manageable chunk of information, with the text and workbook available to practice.

The basic premise is that you need to learn the logic behind the test, not just learn a bunch of facts.  This is a reasoning test, not a knowledge test, and College Prep Genius approaches their prep work mostly from the angle of teaching the child to think critically about the questions.

When we reviewed this program two years ago, we found the acronyms to be a little difficult.  I'm not sure what all changed between then and now (well, Connor is about a foot taller and has a deeper voice... so, umm, a lot of maturity, I guess!) but they seemed more helpful now.  An example... for the vocabulary questions, the acronym USE applies:   
  • Unquestionably  
  • Substitute  
  • Each answer choice in the sentence.  
I like that.

There are some fabulous tips given too.  Again, in the vocabulary section, they tell you that the most common definition of a word will usually be an answer choice, and that it will usually be wrong.  They tell you that if two answers have similar meanings then both of them are wrong. 

Connor's opinion:  he thinks this course is great.  His plan is to work through the textbook, which is far more thorough with many more examples, and then watch the DVD section.  The DVD he feels is great for "getting the information into my brain through a different channel" (hearing and seeing it, rather than reading it) but he thinks watching it first is confusing as they go through the materials at a pretty rapid pace.

Connor commented to me that he thinks the textbook is the most valuable part of the program, and he also mentioned that this book is "so much better" than the earlier edition.

He also thinks the DVD will be fabulous to watch again in the couple of weeks leading up to his actual test date.

As for the acronyms, he did tell me that he still struggles with them.  BUT, he hasn't really spent the time to truly study and learn them either, and he conceded that if he truly *knew* them (by, oh, say actually writing them out on index cards and studying them, like the book suggests) he probably would discover that they help.

We talked a lot about some of the suggestions for the writing portion.  Honestly, the SAT Essay is the scariest thing about this test for both of us.  My kids struggle with writing.  All of them.  But both Connor & I think that the suggestions in this book are going to help.  A lot.  There are some very specific recommendations given, and while Connor hasn't truly studied this section yet (I made him skim over materials from throughout the book though in preparation for this review) he thinks those suggestions are going to make it so he can write a passable essay.  Well, that and the practice recommended by the program.

Connor thinks this set would be terrific for anyone who still has time available to truly prepare for the SAT.  If someone is just about to take the test, just the DVD might be a better choice.  I would tend to agree with that.

My overall opinion?  This course is a fantastic deal, and any student looking towards college should at least consider it.  I would have done far better on the SAT had this material been available to me.  At the very least, I would have felt more confident and comfortable with the process.  That alone would have been worth something.

You can read what other crew members had to say about College Prep Genius and either the SAT course I reviewed, or the VocabCafe books here:

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive the product referenced in this post in exchange for my review.  All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.


Heather said...

Great review! This stuff really is so important these days!

Shannon said...

Thanks for the review. If I remember correctly, your first born and my first born are the same age. When is Connor planning on taking the test? We have been struggling with figuring out the best time to let him take the SAT's. He's anxious to take them and see how he does as his younger cousin had to take them to get into a special gifted class. Thanks for your input!

Debra said...

Shannon -- Connor is 14.5 and in 9th. He will *for sure* be taking the PSAT next October. That is an absolute definite.

The SAT? We're talking about him taking it in the spring. I'm not sure though. It will partially depend on dates... he's looking at taking an AP exam in May. It seems like there are SAT dates in June, so maybe he'll do that...

I want him to take it this schoolyear though. He does need the practice.

Shannon said...

Matt is also 14.5 and in 9th grade. Doesn't one take the PSAT's before the SAT's? Are you having Connor take the SAT's in June '12? Or did you mean June 2013? Thanks!

Debra said...

In general, yes... most people would do the PSAT before the SAT... but you don't have to. The PSAT only happens in October, too, so we're considering having him take an SAT this spring/summer.

And take the next available PSAT.

Who knows, we may wait for sometime after the PSAT though.

In your case, I'd definitely plan to do the PSAT next October. It "counts" (for National Merit Scholarship) only in the junior/11th grade year... so taking it as a 10th grader is a bit of a practice run for that...