Sunday, June 19, 2016

SAT Prep Course A, the Set-up

So, you've been allowed to create an SAT Prep Course (or assigned one). What now? Pat yourself on the back and be ready for a wild ride.

The first thing in your planning is to eliminate the idea that this will be a math class, taught like any other math class, made up of students who resemble a typical math class.

If your assignment is anything like mine have been over the years, you will have an incredible mash of abilities and a mandate to "Do something".  In no other mathematics scenario will you get a math class with honors pre-calculus students and informal geometry students at the same time. In one sense, this is a recipe for disaster. It can be managed, however.

To start with, your students will all suck at math. (No, really!) Even the best ones have forgotten the most basic ideas. √300 = 10√3 - what magic is this? Proportions and fractions - who knew?

Your goal is to teach everything from pre-algebra to pre-calculus in one-half a credit ... partly by "quick reminders" and 10 question quizzes, and mostly by a thorough cleaning-out of all the topics the test won't cover ... and they don't cover a lot.

Of necessity, the tests are very predictable in their choices of topic and question. They are predictable in their style. This is what makes them good comparisons from year-to-year.

It is at this point that many people pooh-pooh standardized tests and decry the amount of time spent preparing for them and wringing hands over the lack of engagement ... fuck that.  You need to be on-board with testing, just this once.

You need to be encouraging and instill a sense of us vs them, us vs the test-makers.  This is a competition between your students and some question makers ... and your students can win this thing.

Yes, the test is biased against black, Latinos, poor people -- so what? They still need to win this game. Yes, testing is bad, but rebelling against the system is stupid because it doesn't make you better at testing, or at taking the SAT.  "If you aren't taking the SAT, why are you here?"

Yes, this is taking time, which is why your school isn't asking the actual core courses to include this stuff.

I can tell you which questions are easy or difficult, and why, without seeing the test. By the end of your first week, so will your students.

Finally, this is not a math test, nor is it an English test. It can be manipulated and out-thought.  The essay isn't meant to be graded by your kindly, old Dr. Phillpots, chairman of the SHS English department, and 35-year veteran teacher. It will be read by (maybe) college graduate, or high school graduate, earning $10 per hour, given 45 seconds for each one. All of the math test will be scored by a machine.

Fortify yourself. Your new Prep course will run against everything you think of as a typical HS math or English course. Repeat the mantras,
  • "Us vs Them". 
  • "It's not a math class, it's a prep class." 
  • "We won't cover everything. We are reviewing (and maybe filling in a few holes). You've already taken Geometry."
  • It's scored on a curve."
  • "We're always looking for improvement."
  • "The course is pass-fail. The test is a number in search of an improvement."
So let's get going. Action Step One:

Get the four sample tests and scoring guides and answer sheets from (make an account, if you have to) on the practice test page. Take the first test and read through each section carefully; familiarize yourself with the general type of question, seeming difficulty, topic. This will help you understand what I'm talking about when we discuss things further.
 You should start with reading the sample test through from start to finish. This is NOT the test you took when you took an SAT before applying to college. The format is different, the pacing is different, the topics are slightly different and more advanced, and the resources that your students will have access to are immensely different.

If you want to take it yourself as a refresher, feel free. Download, print, and go. Follow the directions and stick to the posted times.

I'll check back in again in a couple of days.


  1. Thank you for posting this. We too have a half credit class like this at my school. I am looking forward to hearing what you do with the course. Thanks again for sharing

  2. If you're receiving notifications, part two posted.

  3. Agree with most of it. However, having worked in this capacity, I can guarantee you that the essay portion is not scored by some high school or college kid who is paid ten bucks an hour. Unless they have recently made dramatic changes to their application process, they require proof of the applicant obtaining a four-year degree. In addition to that the training process also weeds out some employees, and there is ongoing quality control during scoring as well.