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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Increasing SAT Scores

sat-prep_FullDo SAT prep courses work to increase scores?  In order to figure that one out, you’d need to be a top achiever in more types of math, statistics, and probabilities, than I can imagine.

All I know is that Petya, a straight-A, college-prep curriculum student, scored in the bottom of the barrel on the PSAT last year.  Due to the local high school and the College Board claiming that each other had lost his scores, misplaced his scores, had not signed-off on the paperwork that we could  receive his scores (for six months and about 100 phone calls and e-mails), we were only able to have him take the SAT in this, the fall of his senior year. 

Would the scores be any better than last fall?

According to a Wall Street Journal article, signing up with the major test prep groups, such as Kaplan, usually resulted inSAT anywhere from a 5-point to 30-point increase.  Some students using less reputable prep firms actually took very challenging, company-designed pretests which made their SAT scores appear to increase dramatically, but which had no basis in reality.  Which meant that the more scrupulous of the prep firms did not always even achieve the double digits in terms of score improvement.

That’s it?  Hundreds or thousands of dollars and a number of weeks or months spent in review for a few measly points?

We needed to turbo-charge Petya’s tests, and we needed to do it fast.  I had a feeling, confirmed by my consultations with others, that he simply did not understand the “tricky” English of a standardized test.

905717c9dddd916333331fa0907b8ab3Well, then, he would have to learn.

Never mind the growing numbers of universities which were fast becoming test-optional.  Homeschoolers, who were faced with doubtful and dubious admissions counselors already, had high hurdles to jump, many colleges requiring SAT Subject Tests or AP Tests in addition to the SAT or ACT.  So the student would basically be exchanging one big standardized test of four-and-a-half hours for a number of smaller, three-hour subject tests.


When it came to the PSAT predicting one’s SAT success, the general rule of thumb was to add a zero onto any PSAT score to make it correlate loosely to what it might become on the SAT.  However, everyone understood that the PSAT was easier in general.  Then, one had to factor into the equation that a student’s SAT score should theoretically go up with every year of high school.

In essence, this meant that Petya could be expected to come out even on his first SAT, taking into account the advanced satdifficulty of the test, yet balancing that with one year of advanced knowledge.

That’s all we had to look forward to? 

If we were going down, it wouldn’t be without a fight-!  In researching our options, I came across Veritas Prep, the brain-child of Shaan Patel, a student who taught himself how to improve his SAT score from 1760 to a perfect 2400.  (No, this is not a paid endorsement, just a real-life testimonial.)

Petya spent a couple of months with a very affordable online study option.  He enjoyed the cool format and explanatory nature of the study sessions.  Like any over-scheduled high-schooler, he had limited time for extra study, but squeezed in maybe 2-3 hours per week for 2-3 months prior to the test.  I would have preferred an hour a day, but, that didn’t happen.

1213454_634534254961811250The result?  A 200-point increase in his score, even though we knew that the SAT would be more difficult than the PSAT.

Not bad, similar to those who receive private, professional tutoring for months on end.  Yet, we’re not stopping there.

Our latest strategy is to buy Patel’s book, “SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps” which Petya is plowing through with more diligence than his previous prep work. The goal is to take the test in the spring and see how much more he can elevate his score.  He’s learning valuable test-taking strategies and challenging himself to go for it.

That, in itself, can make a mother proud.


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8 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar melin says:

    So did he take the PSAT’s as a sophomore or as a junior? We also received my son’s PSAT scores and I’m fairly underwhelmed. What has become evident is that his Algebra 2 teacher is useless so it’s time for us to step in. At this point I expect my son to do the ACT’s and not the SAT’s as well as some AP exams. The super scoring concept, which encourages people to cherry pick scores, is a big money maker and ultimately raises the bar for everyone. Not to mention it disadvantages students who cannot afford to take and re-take and then take the SAT/ACT again and again. One last tip, I did this with my older child and I believe it contributed towards his perfect English score. The Critical Reading material from the company called, “Critical Thinking Company” is spot on for teaching what the kids need to know. Rather than buy the book for your son’s age/grade, check the material out first as you may be surprised that he belongs in a slightly lower grade level. Maybe you have their stuff – it’s a popular homeschool adjunct curriculum. So much gaming in this college process. I deplore it.

    • avatar admin says:

      Thank you, Melin, for the tips! He took the PSAT in the fall of his junior year… and then didn’t get the results back until very late in the spring (6 months later!). We wanted to sign him up to take the SAT in the spring of 11th grade, but without any benchmark, we felt to wait for the scores to come back. By that time, he could only be scheduled for this fall. So here we are.

      The list of hoops to jump through for homeschoolers increases every year. I just read over a B-list (C-list?) school that requires a high school diploma from three possible sources: local school district’s Board of Educ., or an organization approved by the local school district’s Board of Educ. (co-op?), or a GED. Um, in our case, it would be none of the above. My husband says that we’re an approved organization since our locale approves us each year to homeschool… maybe so, but I don’t even feel like fighting it/ researching it after a while. A GED? I don’t think so. That would label one for life.

      I’m going to check out the “Critical Thinking Company” for sure. We’re realizing that the kids, all adopted around their preteens, do not even understand some subtle subplots of movies. They comprehend the general overall theme, but if we ask what was someone’s profession, or anything else not really germaine to the main theme, they tune it out like the wah-wah-wah in a Charlie Brown movie.

      Other than one child, the other three are bright, and the slow one is making remarkable gains every day. But the pressure to produce (while enjoying family life, getting in a little bit of sports, community and congregational service…) is truly being felt here as three are in homeschool high school. They have their noses to the grindstone from 8 am to 3 pm every day (1/2 hour for lunch, no recess, etc.). I do believe they’d be farther along in English if they were in a regular school, but then we’d have to deal with a lot of the other nonsense (selling candy bars and gift wrap, peer pressure, all-night homework, losing their Russian even faster) resulting in the proverbial two steps forward and one step back.

      It might make sense for our younger ones who have more time to take some college courses during high school to give them a track record for Admissions Committees. Or, even take a few classes after high school to go the roundabout way to applying…. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

      I really appreciate your input!

  2. avatar melin says:

    You run a much tighter program than I ever have in regards to homeschooling. But with your kids being so close in age I suppose there is an element of crowd control going on with that schedule. I’m sure you have heard all the research that says once conversational English has been acquired, it takes a minimum of 7 more years to master academic English. I’m not at all surprised that your last three children struggle in some areas. Actually, I’m impressed that are as far along as they seem to be.
    So regarding your oldest son and college. I believe the less competitive schools require more data from the homeschooling child. Except for William and Mary, which is ironic because they have a visible homeschool mom in leadership there, we didn’t have any additional requests for information. I simply submitted the transcript that I generated and had notarized (the notary means nothing in this context but I did it anyway). From that point we only had to submit what any candidate might submit. I suppose the highly selective schools (and most selective schools) see their fair share of non traditional educations so homeschooling was more of a plus than a negative, to be sure.
    Are you familiar with the concept of “hooks?” Consider what your son’s “hooks” are and highlight them. First generation college student is a HUGE hook but in our kids cases it’s awkward. Yes – considering the family of origin they are first generation college students but not so of the home they were raised in…. I’ve known adoptive parents who handled this from both angles. Are either you or your husband first generation American’s? That is also a hook of the highest order! Diversity is a hook. Your son does have a huge diversity story that is compelling. Diversity in the sense that he has overcome an unusual hardship and even still is living in a rather unusual family structure (new siblings). That would be considered “diversity.
    His multi cultural life may well be his biggest hook as the best schools are looking for students who can assimilate themselves and help others do the same. Bi/ (tri?) lingual is huge on a college app. If he was interested in applying to a less populated major he could go just about anywhere. For instance, a bi/tri lingual boy who is interested in the Classics is in high demand. Or , a boy interested in Asian female gender studies is a big hook:). A caucasian boy interested in becoming an engineer or business major or pre med is old news. That won’t help his candidacy.
    Maybe your’e shooting too low for him?
    Without knowing anything about your other kids I would think that sending them “off” to college at 20, rather than 18, could only be a good thing.
    For so many reasons, the least of which are the academics.
    I consider myself pretty savvy but I have been truly stunned to see the garbage that goes on in college. And that includes christian colleges. It is downright scary to hear the nitty gritty of what is said, what is taught, what is encouraged, what is modeled and what is not. I see my son’s courses, projects due, etc. and there seems to be a point in each course where the kid has to conform to expectations or forfeit a decent grade.
    Sorry for how doom and gloom I sound – it’s just that his liberal arts education is more liberal than we imagined.
    Pardon me if this is obvious but do you understand the whole concept of super-scoring? That means selecting the best score from each subset of the test and then combining those scores for a final score.
    Some schools will super score (probably 3/4 of them do) and you must take advantage of that if that is the case. SAT’s and ACT’s can both be super scored. I think that now two subject tests are now required if you submit SAT’s, right?
    Finally for now, schools use this measure I will call, “interest index.” Meaning, with all the thousands and thousands of applications and many students looking just about the same on paper, they often will use the student’s “interest index” as the tie breaker. That means they consider all communication with school, school visits, school tours, inquiries, alumni interview, when possible…, etc.
    They keep track of this stuff beginning with the first phone call to request their brochure. It’s a real part of the selection process these days.
    Has your son considered one of the military academies? Does he test well? That is mandatory for the academies.
    You’ll never get this time back with the kids so try to minimize school work where you can appropriately do so (like do oral quizzing, allow typing, avoid repetitive work just for the sake of it, etc.)

    Be well.

    • avatar admin says:

      Wow, Melin, you are a wealth of info! So helpful. I had no idea about the super-scoring.

      Our kids will certainly shine from the immigrant and diversity standpoints. They have languages, volunteerism, unique interests. I heard a great lecture by Susan Wise Bauer from W&M and she spoke about what the schools are looking for, as well as what the student might “bring” to the university as a whole and how that would set them apart.

      This might sound odd, however, I’m not so sure I want any of ours going away when they’re 18 or 20. One of our main goals right now is to give them an internal compass. Yet for all of our efforts, I sense that if they met up with a very persuasive character of any sort (good or bad), they might be swept away.

      Our first son is a classicist, major interest in archaeology, and he’s almost at the end of a 2-year part-time program (no college credit, but a huge amount of field, survey, lab work, along with lectures, tons of textbooks to read, and exams at the end) that will speak volumes. Some have likened it to an AA degree. He also has a paid internship that started as volunteer work at age 15. He’s outgoing, very personable, and probably if last year repeats itself, some colleges would want him on their tennis team. (And again, I’m not so sure, since that takes away from the academics….)

      Right now, we’re looking at some European colleges with strong online programs (not degree mills). They might require a week of residency here or there during the undergrad experience which is generally 3 years in length (due to no filler “general ed” subjects, classes only in your major). He has no interest in the military, but anything in national security would probably be a good fit, too.

      This is a very talented young man, plenty of motivation and drive, great grades, and now the numbers on the SATs say, “You stink”, so it’s kind of hard to accept. Back in the day, we all took SATs without any coaching, etc., and did just fine. I never thought it would be so different for our (immigrant) kids.

      But it is. I adopted my grandparents and here we are, starting all over again. Maybe I am shooting too low– I like that! You made my day. 🙂

  3. avatar Karen says:

    I am listening in on this insightful conversation. You ladies are helping us new kids on the block!

  4. avatar melin says:

    Smith, Bard, Wheaton, Univ of Rochester, NYU, Boston Conservatory, Holy Cross, Furman – there are hundreds of schools like these that are test optional. An applicant is not thought of as trying to hide something when they don’t submit test scores to these test optional colleges. The admission committee simply doesn’t put that much thought into any one kid’s application. If they spend 10 minutes looking at a single application that would be a lot. More like 7 minutes is dedicated to each application. So when the student has not submitted SAT/ACT scores they think, “We are test optional and the kid opted to not test.” End of story.
    What is important on the application is that you “connect the dots” for the admission committee. They are not interested in trying to decode the student’s narrative. So the application should tell the story. He should use the different essays to describe himself in a way that hasn’t emerged elsewhere on the application. If there is an “optional essay” or chance to share more about himself he should use it. He is already doing what is most valued activities wise – long term involvement , diving deeply into his interests and demonstrating leadership potential. Colleges can sniff out disingenuous.
    I would not have said this years ago but I think there is a lot of wisdom in keeping kids local for college. I understand that we need to equip and not insulate our children but they can become equipped without being immersed in meaningless american culture 24/7.
    Yea – kids around here are prepped for these tests from freshman year. My nephew’s SAT tutor said that it is common knowledge that students bring in pre-programmed formulas on their calculators to use for the math section (It is illegal). The tutor said , “Any student who does not do that is at a serious disadvantage.” Gosh – I had no idea kids were doing that nor did my children. But encouraging my kids to do something illegal “because everybody else is” won’t be happening. My husband and I can’t – won’t – live like that. What I found during the college process is that it was a time where I had to decide if I meant everything we said about our faith. “God will provide.” ” In all your ways, acknowledge Him…,” “Prayer is our first work…,” “It’s not the outward appearance that matters. God sees our heart.” We had not spent our life
    “posturing” each kid so they’d get into the best school possible because we decided early on that we didn’t want to define our 30’s/40’s/50/s that way. Plus we know from personal experience that success isn’t that fragile. A person an be successful without having attended the most elite school. But all this rhetoric feels a bit scary when it is our child that we talking about.
    Still, we stayed true to ourselves and have not regretted it. And this is partly bragging but mostly testimony to how great our God is: My son is at a Division One school and walked on to the baseball team as a pitcher. He is their starting pitcher as a walk on. Virtually unheard of.
    I believe God blessed him because we didn’t cave and start playing baseball every Sunday, as is the expectation.
    I’ve rambled.

    • avatar admin says:

      Your “ramble” makes more sense than a lot of carefully-crafted arguments. What a great testimony you have in staying true to your beliefs. I, as well, have changed many of my thoughts over the past decade concerning college. Always imagined I’d have kids in the top of the top rung– and now I’m thinking “for what?” It really makes one think through what they hold near and dear, and how to steer their children in a way that will bring them meaning and fulfillment, as well. I don’t want to shortchange them in any way. But if we forsake our core values and our very essence… what’s left?

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