Thursday, April 26, 2012

SAT Math

I wanted to share this status update from Teaching Textbooks about advice on taking the Math portion of the SAT test.  I thought it was very insightful whether or not you use Teaching Textbooks (which we do).

As a TT user, how do I make sure that my students get a good score on the math portion of the SAT or ACT?

The first thing to be aware of is the SAT and ACT are pretty basic tests. There’s actually a lot of arithmetic of them—things like percents, decimals, unit conversions. But then they also have a lot of Algebra 1, basic Geometry, and a little Algebra 2. That’s about it. There is no Trigonometry on the SAT or ACT (other than a few simple ratios that are included in Geometry). And there’s no other advanced Pre-Calculus or Calculus. The geometry sections are basic because they don’t even include proofs. Proofs are the toughest part of a high school geometry course, but they aren’t on the SAT or ACT. That means the key to doing well on the SAT or ACT test is not to rush through a lot of courses. Sometimes people will say “I want my son to make sure he gets through Calculus as a senior so he can ace the SAT.” The problem is there isn’t any Calculus on the SAT. The key to doing well is to know basic arithmetic, of course. But in addition to that, you need to have a solid conceptual understanding of Algebra and Geometry. Conceptual understanding really matters because you can’t fake your way an SAT exam. There aren’t any example problems for you to look at and mimic. All the problems are different and mixed together, and you have to really know what you’re doing.

The TT courses will provide your students with the instruction they need to do well on these tests. The courses were written with the SAT and ACT tests in mind. In fact, there are a lot of problems in our courses that were modeled after actual SAT and ACT test problems. The Geometry course has 4 of 5 problems like that in every lesson. 

Now, does that mean your students don’t need to do any other preparation for the SAT or ACT besides their TT courses? No. If you want to get a top score on any standardized exam, it’s smart to do some test prep work. Almost all serious high school students spend time prepping for these tests, so your students should too. We recommend getting one or two test prep booklets. You can buy them at any bookstore or check out copies at a public library. (Some well-known test prep publishers include Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Barron’s.) Get a book that was published recently, since the tests are sometimes revised in minor ways. You want the most current test information. If your student is taking the SAT, get an SAT book. If they’re taking the ACT, get an ACT book. The basic SAT test that everybody takes is actually called the SAT I. There are also SAT II tests. There are a bunch of SAT IIs. They cover all sorts of different subjects like Science, History, Literature. There’s also an SAT II math test. (The SAT II math test is a more advanced test. It’s basically a Pre-Calc. test. ) And most highschoolers don’t take it. So don’t get an SAT II book. Make sure it’s the SAT I. 

Whether they’re preparing for the SAT or the ACT, have your student go through the entire test prep book. Have them do every exercise and all the practice tests. Make sure that they simulate realistic test conditions when doing the practice tests. Time them and everything. Make sure they use a calculator. You’re allowed to have a calculator on the SAT and ACT. The test prep book will familiarize your student with the format of the test. That’s very important for performance. They’ll learn what kinds of problems are usually on the test. And they’ll learn strategies for answering multiple choice problems quickly. We don’t teach those in the TT courses, because we don’t want students to take shortcuts. We want them to work out the problem completely and get the answer on their own—even if there are choices given. But on a standardized exam, speed is important. So your student needs to learn some of those strategies. If there are things in the book that they are confused about, have them go back to their TT book and look the concept up. They may need to rewatch some TT lessons to refresh their memory. It may even be necessary to go back to Pre-Algebra because a lot of highschoolers get rusty on basic arithmetic. Remember, there’s a lot of that on the SAT and ACT. So have them do a thorough job going through the test prep book and that, combined with all the work they have done in their TT courses, should ensure that they do well.

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