I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. 3 John 1:4


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Preparing for the SAT

Preparing for the SAT begins in 1st grade!  Yes, it is true.  I wouldn't dream of waiting until high school to begin thinking about how to help my children score well on a test that has so many implications for their future.  The SAT means cash in their pockets, for one.  The way things work today with colleges, SAT scores = $$$ or lack thereof.  Everybody knows that, I think. 

So, what do we do in elementary school?  We make the three Rs our priority.  This isn't always the fun part of what we do.  We love unit studies, science journals, history, field trips, park days.....  but all those things must be secondary.  We start our school day with an the RRRs, and once those are done, we move on to the rest. 

We do think our bible studies are the most important subject, by the way, but I like to do this after lunch, when we can sit and relax.  I like to take my time and not feel rushed with the pressure of getting it done so we can get to the tough subjects.  So, bible comes after lunch because I know we will do it and we can all look forward to it.  We tried doing bible first thing in the morning years ago, but it was always rushed.
Prioritizing is one of the keys to success and flexibility is another.  The flexibility to slow down when something isn't working, try different approaches, or  switch curricula is very important.  As homeschoolers, we enjoy the possibility of an individualized approach.  A one-size-fits-all program is necessary in a school classroom setting.  Helping a child love, or at least like, a subject is one of my goals.  There are so many resources available out there.  Integrating a subject like math into other areas - geography, science, or even art... helps to make it likable for some.  Sometimes, it helps to make the subject relevant - a field trip to the grocery store is a great possibility when learning to count money.  Cashiers have always been very kind and patient when I've had my children go up to pay with cash in hand, working out the amounts and what change they receive.

Reading is the most important skill to learn in school. That said, my goal in this area was to help my children learn to love it. Video games, daily TV watching and movies are the enemies when it comes to helping your children love to read, simply because those other activities are more stimulating. With one of my children, the choice had to be between reading and being bored sitting on a chair. She always chose reading when I put it that way. Some children mature later than others, and they will need to be allowed to stay with picture books a while longer. The goal, though, is to get them reading books that are not limited in vocabulary. Readers often limit vocabulary, so they are not my favorites. It is very important to have reliable reading lists as resources to pick your children's reading books wisely.  Do not let your children free to pick books at the library for themselves!  Here are some I've used:

One of the most important tasks to accomplish during elementary school, and one that NONE of my children have liked is to memorize their multiplication tables.  Each one of them has shed tears the first few times they HAD to memorize their facts, because they knew there was no way out of it.  Once they memorized the table of 3, they were over the hump and went along with it.  Becoming proficient and fast at doing arithmetic is very important.  I like A Beka's speed drills and have used them with all the kids faithfully.  The SAT is a timed test, and although they allow the use of a calculator, there is much arithmetic involved in simple algebra problems which would take too long to do with a calculator.  They must have those facts cemented so that they are automatic.
So, what to do if your children are in middle school and don't have this skill down?  Stop, and spend a few weeks doing speed drills and memorizing those facts.  Nothing else is more important in the math department. 

The curriculum we use for high school math:

Pre-algebra    BJU
Elementary Algebra   by Harold Jacobs
Geomerty   by Harold Jacobs
Advanced Algebra and Trig   by Paul Foerster
Trigonometry - MyMathLab (online course)

Note:  Those last three books are also available at Veritas Press.
About a month before the big day, we take time off from a few of our subjects to fit in SAT practice.  I use two resources for this:

If you are not familiar with the SAT, it would be a good idea to buy Cracking the SAT/SAT 2400 and read through the test-taking strategies section.  It is important to teach children how to test early on.
Last but not least, make sure you sign your child up at the College Board to receive daily email SAT questions and other announcements, check their calendar for test dates and locations, practice tests, etc.
Best wishes!

March 2013 update - Our son scored very well on the SAT.  Although he would like to keep his score private, I can say that if he goes to one of the Florida state universities, because of this score, he will go for free.  Dr. Chung's Math book was very helpful in preparing for the test.

February 2014 update - He retook the test in January and scored a 1520 composite, which was great!

April 2014 update - We received a letter from the National Merit Scholar Corporation saying that Michael has met the requirements to enter the 2015 National Merit Scholarship Program!

March 2015 - Michael is a National Merit Scholarship finalist!  We are so excited for him!  All his hard work is paying off, praise be to God.

June 2015 - Michael decided to go to the University of South Florida because of their generous scholarship offer and being able to live at home and commute.  His scholarships from USF as a National Merit scholar would have paid for room and board. He will be saving that money for graduate school.

January 2018 update - Michael graduates from USF this semester, currently has a 4.0 GPA.  He took the LSAT in June and was admitted to the University of Florida Law School with a full scholarship!
Michelle is now preparing to take the SAT either in March or May.  This will be her second try. 

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