Saturday, October 10, 2009

TOS Review: College Prep Genius

I remember my preparation for the SATs. Let's just say that it lived up to this product's claim: "The No Brainer Way to SAT Success." Here's what I did: after learning that you could repeat the test as many times as you chose, I decided to focus on one area at a time. I picked math first, because that's my Achilles heel. I borrowed a couple of basic math textbooks from my Algebra teacher. I looked at them for a couple of weeks; no pressure. Just grazing, as it were. I didn't go out the night before the test. I got up early enough the morning of the SAT to actually eat a reasonable breakfast. I left a little early, so that I wouldn't be stressed about being late. I brought the right kind of identification with me. I took the test. Then, after getting the first set of results back, I repeated the process, but this time with a focus on the Language Arts component. In the end, my highest scores were combined, resulting in a very respectable total that landed me a handful of exclusive scholarships, a neat pin to wear at graduation, and acceptance letters from the universities that had made my short list.

No brainer, right?

Apparently not. Because pretty much everyone I know--even the homeschoolers who balk at the idea of standardized testing for their children--subscribes to the theory that preparing for the SAT requires a whole lot more than common sense and a little review. Uh-uh. This is full-court-press territory. This is The Big Leagues. This is The Test that will forever decide the course of a person's life.

And you know what? I just don't buy that. It just doesn't fit with my overall educational methodology. In my way of thinking, a test is a test. It's a one-shot deal--not a long-range, deeper examination of the complete package. Frankly, I didn't want to go to a university that focused solely on numbers. I was far more interested in the community, the academic relationships, and the overall sense of opportunity that the school provided--and I wanted them to seek the same thing in me as a student. That fact alone may put you and I worlds apart, but hey--isn't that what makes homeschooling so darn interesting?

SAT prep is big business. Pick up your local phone directory and scan the business pages, and you're bound to come across a whole host of entries for private tutors, chain learning centers, and more that offer SAT success secrets. Every fall, a table in the media hawking area at the nearby Costco virtually groans under the weight of countless workbooks promising to improve your student's SAT scores. Some school districts even jump on the bandwagon, offering weeks of after-school classes that focus on the skills and remediation necessary to give kids a leg up as they approach the sacred SAT testing time.

Homeschoolers seem slightly less likely to hit the panic button when they see the SATs coming their way. But only slightly less. A large contingency of homeschoolers feel irreparably bound to the school district's timelines for the awarding of credits, to the standardized transcript process, and yes, to the freak-out over SAT scores. Otherwise sane parents, who have never seen the use in driving their math-aversive student beyond the minimum requirements, suddenly feel compelled to pay $600 for a weekend crash course that grounds him in the geometry he never had a use for.

People, stop the madness.

It's a test. A simple test.

It does not define your child's future. God does that. All the SAT can/will do for your child is access a base of knowledge that may (or may not) have an impact on his or her ability perform in college.

Can a particularly low score shut down a child's chances for acceptance into specific schools? Sure it can. I'm not saying that this test doesn't or shouldn't hold some weight with you and your student. But what I am urging you to consider is perspective. It's a test. A test. Not THE test. Just ... a test.

Alright. That said, what should you do if:

a) your child has had limited exposure to the concept of standardized testing and is approaching SAT age?
b) you know that your child does not test well?
c) your child has set his sights on a particularly competitive school/field that requires a higher than average score?
d) your child has anxiety about this test and would be well served by having a plan?
e) financing a university degree is going to be tight for your family, so scoring well on the PSAT is important in terms of qualifying for scholarships?

In those instances, I highly recommend College Prep Genius. For just $79, you can literally hand your child a DVD and workbook chock-full of strategies that will enhance his knowledge of what the test is about as well as giving him memorization aids that will serve as guides to the individual sections. Yes, this product is designed to pump you up for all the fabulous prizes that will be yours if you only manage to score well on The Test To End All Tests!!!! But a well-grounded parent offering a realistic perspective--coupled with the information found here-- will give any unsure teen the chance to approach the SAT armed with test-taking skills, a plan of attack, and a healthy dose of "I did my best."

College Prep Genius offers specific skill-enhancers, catchy memorization techniques, and straight-forward advice on trouble spots. The teacher's guide is well-written and complete enough to be handed straight to the test-taker and used as a self-teaching course. But since this program comes with a DVD, I don't think that will be necessary. Pop that in and let the kids learn from the pros. The workbook is thorough and exhaustive; completing it will leave any child ready for the real thing. It also has the same, "official" feel that you'd expect of the actual test. By recreating the proctored environment in the home, you can easily use this course for a number of trial-runs.

Again, I'm not a huge fan of slavish SAT prep. But I do believe that this course offers a nice balance. Using it at your own pace, with a balanced view towards how important the SAT is or isn't, you can have something of the best of both worlds. Plus, the price is right; most tutoring courses run into the hundreds of dollars, and offer far less than what you're getting here. When you factor in the ability to re-use these materials with subsequent children, you're truly getting a deal.

So get your college-bound kids ready for the SAT. But do it with sanity. And for goodness sake ... please don't freak out. :-)


Camille said...

I really appreciate your reviews...this has been a blessing to me! Thanks for taking the time to thoroughly research and link for us to come along a glean!

Jana said...

Thanks for the perspective -- I definitely needed to hear that about now!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. Everything you said is exactly how I feel about education and that God is ultimately in control and knows the plans for my girls. I was beginning to freak out about the SAT. Thanks for helping me to get back on track. Your review on College Prep Genious helped so much, especially since that is the one prep course I was looking at.