The College Guy's "Summer Bummer" Rant: Start your SAT Prep Now...

Hi again to the class of 2015 and their parents!
 
Well first of all, don't panic. The weather will stay warm and sunny, despite yesterday's deluge, and there's plenty of good times left before Labor Day.
 
However the subject line of this email is to provide just a tad of rain on your parade to remind you that next Monday, the 18th, marks the start of the 8 week period leading up to the October 11th SAT administration! And that marks the start date of the no hassle SAT self-prep regimen I suggest you do.
 
Hey, don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger.
 
A word to the wise, and to everyone hoping to raise their composite SAT score (and don't forget the colleges will take the highest of your scores in each subsection, so if you manage to raise just one out of three of those scores you'll come out ahead): don't ignore this, and don't expect a 100 point increase to happen by doing NOTHING prior to your retake. You should do some sort of preparation.
 
Lest you think I'm a shameless shill for the College Board's Educational Testing Service, trust me I'm not. Let me remind you here that IMHO the SAT (as well as it's adversary in crime, the ACT), is a terrible test which does not measure your intelligence, your aptitude, or your likelihood to do well in college. Nor is it the gold standard for who gets in where: your GPA and course load is. 
 
If you want further proof of this, as well as a list of the over 750 colleges which are wholly or partly "SAT optional", check out this web site:
 
fairtest.org (look under "College Admissions" in the menu bar).
 
Most of those colleges are ones you've never heard of and would not consider applying to, but there are about 100 (including the likes of Bowdoin and Bard, Bates and Bennington, Marist and Mt. Holyoke, Pitzer and Providence, Hampshire and Holy Cross) which are selective and popular 'destination' schools.
 
But let's get back to the purpose of this email, which is to remind you that although deeply flawed, these tests can HELP YOU get in to certain colleges, and (perhaps as important), qualify for merit (and, to an extent, adequate need-based) financial aid, so you should take them seriously.
 
I believe nearly everyone can, with a little hustle and diligence, improve their scores. Tutors and test-prep course work (I have a list of ones I like if you're interested), but not because they introduce a magic formula to transform your test-taking ability. What I think makes them effective is that when you pay your money you're more likely to sit your butt down and PRACTICE. That's what my self-system will do for you
 
After my last email I got a large number of requests for the full description of my eight week 'self-prep' SAT system, so I've pasted the instructions which describe it in detail below.
 
If you're going to use it, you need to begin MONDAY, as you have eight weeks before the October 11 SAT test date.
 
Remember that you need to sign yourself up for this (and subsequent) tests, both SAT and ACT, by registering at collegeboard.org and act.org. The registration deadline for the October 11th SAT is September 12th; and the deadline for the October 25th ACT is September 19th.
 
If any of you have questions, or concerns, or confusion about any/all SAT or ACT-related stuff, give me a holler. Ditto if you have questions about this entire cockamamie college selection and application process. That's why I'm here! And do your friends and neighbors a favor by forwarding my rant on to them - or send me their email address and I'll write them directly. If you take the time to read my rants, you'll benefit from them.
 
Gary
 
Here goes:
 
THE COLLEGE GUY'S $20 SAT PREP SYSTEM
 
Here's my suggestion for a quick and easy and inexpensive way to prepare for the October 11 SAT. For those of you who've been meeting with me you know about this already. I call it my "$20 SAT prep system" cause everything you need to do is in this book, which costs - duh - around $20:
 
The College Board's "Official SAT Study Guide - 2nd edition" available at most chain book stores or you can buy it at the Collegeboard's web site and Amazon's:
 
http://store.collegeboard.com/sto/productdetail.do?Itemkey=008525
 
http://www.amazon.com/The-Official-SAT-Study-Guide/dp/0874478529
 
The first edition will work just as well, as will one you're able to borrow from a senior or already graduated friend, as long as it doesn't have the answers written in it (if it does, it's no good to you).
 
For those of you who have already gotten an early start and are taking a course or seeing a tutor I still recommend this system - it will nicely complement what you're already doing and as I said, it's not too onerous (a good SAT word to know right there!)
 
My system calls for you to conscientiously follow an eight week "self-prep" regimen - one you'll do entirely by and for yourself. Specifically, it calls for you to spend THIRTY MINUTES A SESSION, THREE TIMES PER WEEK, for EIGHT WEEKS BEFORE THE TEST DATE.
 
Now you may not do this system, but you can't tell me you CAN'T DO IT. Thirty minutes every other day? Easy peasy!
 
Counting backwards from October 11th means you should begin the process Monday, August 18th!
 
Here's the system to follow:
 
Step One: Get yer mitts on the book I mentioned above: the Collegeboard's "Official SAT Study Guide". Note that your book has a bunch of complete sample SAT Reasoning Tests, each one consisting of (count 'em) ten sections of 20 or 25 minutes.
 
Step Two: Begin doing one timed section of an exam every other day for the next eight weeks. (Those of you with documented learning disabilities who have been approved for extended time testing should take 30 or 37 minutes per section as you'll get time and a half for each section.)
 
Alternate math and critical reading and writing sections UNLESS you got more than an 80 point differential between the scores on your May SAT results, in which case do TWO of your weaker subjects for every ONE of your stronger subjects. 
 
Do these practice sections under 'Game Conditions' - which means pretend you're taking the real test: use the answer sheets in the book (tear 'em out or make copies), no distractions, start and stop exactly (use a stopwatch), no interruptions, no music or TV on, don't look up answers while you're working, etc. etc.
 
Step Three: When time is up, take 5 - 10 minutes and look over the answers (they're at the back of each exam) and see which ones you got wrong.
 
That's it. Thirty or thirty-five minutes a session and you're done. Go do something else, and do it again in two days.
 
Start next week and do it for the following 8 weeks and you'll have 24 half hour sessions, 12 hours of test time, which is roughly the equivalent of three complete tests, minus the ESSAY SECTION. Speaking of that, I hope you've all been working on your common application and your essays. I sent you my "How to Write an Essay", and my "Common Application" rants over the past couple weeks. Did you read them? What are you waiting for????
 
For this self-prep system, ignore the Essay sections (#1 with every test).
 
***
 
WHY IT WORKS
 
I believe this type of preparation will work for you because it allows you to prepare for the test by addressing three things:
 
1. Familiarity
2. Pacing
3. Recognition
 
When you take sample tests you're FAMILIARIZING yourself with the instructions and the way they pose the questions, so that you don't have to use valuable time on test day pondering questions like "huh? what the heck are they talking about???" Understand that while the SAT questions change from test to to test, the TYPES OF QUESTIONS DO NOT: they're always the same, and you want to be stone cold familiar with them ahead of time.
 
When you take timed sample tests you're getting good at PACING - working at the right speed, neither too fast nor too slow. Y'see, when you work too fast, you're prone to make careless mistakes and get some easy questions wrong, which you don’t want to do. Work too slow and you’ll run out of time, omit some questions you’d have otherwise gotten correct, get nervous and anxious each time the proctor announces that “there are 15, 10, 5 minutes left in this section...” Get the picture? So learning your right PACE is paramount.
 
Finally, by taking sample tests you'll get good at RECOGNIZING which questions are easy, medium and hard for you. The key to a good score is to get 100% of the easy questions correct; as high a percentage as possible (60%? 70%? 80%?!) of the medium questions correct; and don't waste valuable time with the questions you find most difficult. Those you should omit, cause remember on the SAT you LOSE POINTS for every incorrect answer. Leave it blank and you don't lose points.
 
Refer to your past SAT and PSAT score analysis where they break down the percentage of easy/medium/hard questions you answered correctly (your guidance office has a copy if you threw yours away). See how you did. This is what the big money courses teach you to do: to concentrate on answering all the ones you CAN get right, and to suss out the ones you're most likely to get WRONG and OMIT those questions.
 
Now here's an advanced concept: once you've been doing these 'game condition' sections for a few weeks, you'll start RECOGNIZING which types of questions you always get wrong. If you've got the gumption consult with a teacher or mensa-ish friend and get them to help you out with those types of questions. See, you're pinpointing your areas of weakness and getting assistance. And it doesn't cost you $800!!
 
By doing my system I believe you have an excellent chance to raise your scores. I call this "prepping" (as opposed to "studying").  The reason why outfits like Kaplan, Princeton Review, Maine Prep, Sylvan or the Learning Achievement Center can work for you is that they MAKE YOU TAKE PRACTICE TESTS. 
 
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying don't take those courses. You know your time and energy constraints better than anyone. But I believe that if you're willing and able to follow my "$20 SAT Prep Course" it'll work just as well. But make no mistake - with my system you've got to do the legwork yourself.
 
For those of you who are bound and determined to take a course now or use a tutor by all means go right ahead - any preparation is better than none. But don't buy in to the hype that you NEED to spend money for this.
 
Tutors in particular can be a great tool when used IN CONJUNCTION WITH this prep system. By immersing yourself in actual tests, you'll be able to see what types of questions, math and verbal, you often get wrong. Use the tutor to work with you on those types of questions. See, you're "managing your learning" when you do it this way!
 
I have a list of local (Greater Portland area) tutors I feel good about recommending, which I'll be glad to email to you if you ask.
 
So what are you waiting for? Go prep!!
 
From your Multiple Choice Mahatma, your High Stakes Testing Hepcat, your Essay (writing) Exhorter, and as always, your Garrulous Guru,
 
Gary
 
P.S. (from the shameless commerce department) If you think my rants may be
of use to your classmates and friends, please feel free to forward them liberally. I'm currently accepting class of '15 and '16 clients, and would appreciate receiving email addresses of folks you think would benefit from getting my emails. I appreciate your helping me to spread the word.
 
P.P.S If you'd rather not get these occasional missives, kindly let me know...and you won't.
 
 
-- 
Gary L. Canter
College Placement Services
210 St. John Street
Portland, Maine 04102
(207) 772-9711 
www.collegeplacementservices.org
 
College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.