“Will you help my son memorize 3,000 vocabulary words in the next two weeks?”
As crazy as the previous sentence sounds, asking a tutor to teach so much in so little time is a normal feature SAT test prep. Parents don’t ask specifically to help their kids memorize 3,000 words, but they do ask me to help their children earn top scores…and to get a top score they need those 3,000 words. SAT is a cornerstone of the college application process, and top scores lead to top colleges and more opportunities. The motivation to do well is there, but the problem is most people are not realistic about how much they need to study for the SAT.
I’ve helped dozens of students earn top tier scores and (almost) countless students rise above the 90th percentile in the SAT and ACT. While raw intelligence is always important, the primary factors for earning legendary scores is a year to a year and a half worth of SAT prep and regular study at least once a week.
We live busy and hectic lives and the schedules for students in their Junior and Senior years are always packed. Studying for the SAT is often an afterthought, a task added at the last minute to an already packed schedule. While I am thrilled to help any time of the year, there’s only so much that can be done in a few weeks.
If you want to score in the top 1% on the SAT you need to outshine the other 99% of the most ambitious students in the world. You need to know your math and all of the SAT-specific question types. You need to know thousands of obscure vocabulary words and a unique to the SAT test taking strategies.
You also need a tutor, and you need to start early.
No matter which High Schools my students attend, or how fundamentally intelligent they are, none of them are adequately prepared to earn a top 1% score on their own. The reason being a good student and going to a great high school isn’t enough to do really well is because most people heavily use tutoring and test prep. A by-product of all of this extra work is that the curve of the SAT (and the difficulty of the questions) adjusts to the rising levels of achievement.
The best possible situation is to begin with light tutoring towards the end of Sophomore year, introducing new vocab weekly, learning Latin roots, shoring up math skills and learning the language of the language of the test itself. I’ve found the best opportunities when tutoring a student regularly for their ordinary classwork and then apply the homework lessons to testing. Into the summer, work on decoding, math facts, essay writing, and other fundamental skills.
At the start of Junior year, test prep is part of your child’s normal course load and they are well prepared for their classes because they are working with a tutor who connects SAT lessons to schoolwork. There’s no adding of SAT to the hectic schedule, SAT is a regular, familiar part of it that isn’t a surprise or inconvenience.
In Junior their year, your child has the option to take the SAT right away in September if their goal score is within reach or go for big scores and take the test at the end of the year. Either way, your child will still have another summer before the first 3 months of Senior year when they must take the SAT.
What’s great about this plan is how much wiggle room there is for your child to adapt their approach to the SAT depending on their practice tests and specific needs. If need be, they can wait until they are Seniors and be as ready as humanly possible. If they’ve got the scores early, they can take the test Junior year and get SAT off their plate.
Having the chops to beat the SAT is a combination of many things, but the fundamental ingredient is time. Starting early in an unstressed and (comparably) leisurely time allows lessons sink into long term memory and SAT strategies have the opportunity to become second nature. Also, some very important study skills, mathematics, and logic concepts get introduced at a time when kids need them the most.
Or, you could hire a tutor a few weeks before the test and hope for the best.
By Grant Bergland, Private Tutor