Educational Philosophy, Home Education

What Worked for 11th Grade: College Prep Genius (Homeschooling High School)

June 25, 2019 by Brandy Vencel

When a Charlotte Mason mama meets the “real world” of SATs, ACTs, and college applications, it can be a pain. Maintaining our principles means not teaching to the test, but not teaching to the test can mean lower test scores, which can have undesirable ramifications.

One of my goals has been to keep as many doors open for my students as possible. Some students will naturally have more open doors than others — some will care about open doors more than others. And some will slam doors through their own choices. But I didn’t want anyone looking back and blaming me for closed doors — doors closed through my choices and actions without consulting them.

We haven’t graduated anyone yet, so I can’t claim to be successful. But I can say I understand that low SAT scores can limit college choices. I also knew that my first test taker was at a disadvantage because of the math we’d chosen (for some reason MEP didn’t really get into functions until the A-Levels in Pure Mathematics — and the SAT was full of functions).

My student’s biggest disadvantage was in misunderstanding the test. He thought they genuinely wanted him to get the right answer by steadily working through the problems (especially in math). Instead, most of the tests are testing whether you can detect patterns and out-think the test-writers. Turns out, you can quickly get the right answer in a math problem not by working the problem but by eliminating the obvious wrong answers.

I decided that instead of teaching to the test, I’d teach him how to take the test.

Test-taking would be just another subject we studied. This was an especially easy decision to make because his top pick college (New College Franklin) only accepts the CLT, and that’s a test he easily does well on. His SAT scores were more of a backup in case we needed other options than a high-priority objective.

Enter College Prep Genius

My husband was wandering the vendor hall at Great Homeschool Conventions California when he ran into Jean Burk from College Prep Genius. He was immediately impressed with her sample test questions and corresponding answer strategies. He came back to me at the AmblesideOnline booth raving about her program.

“We have to get this!” he said.

“Ask for a copy for free,” I said. “Tell her if I like it, I’ll review it on the blog.”

And so she did, and now I am.

We got all sorts of goodies in the mail and by email. Some of it — like the Vocab Cafe Series — was unnecessary for us. Students given so many years of AmblesideOnline aren’t usually in need of vocabulary lessons, and that’s the truth! But the rest of it was exactly what we needed — lessons on how to take the test, directions for using the best strategies, and lots of practice opportunities.

College Prep Genius recommends many hours of practice and I’ll admit right now he didn’t put that in. That, too, was determined by our priorities. With the SAT being more of a backup plan, it didn’t merit that kind of attention and I didn’t want my student neglecting the important thing, which was actual study. If a student is trying to get into a more competitive school or land an important scholarship, this type of work load might be a priority.

Here is my son’s opinion on the program:

College Prep Genius advocates starting to take tests (PSAT, SAT) in middle school, which could worry people (like me). It focuses much on the financial benefit of getting high scores.

I recommend College Prep Genius for anyone who can afford it and is planning on going to a college that requires the SAT, ACT, and/or PSAT. She does a good job of explaining how to outsmart the tests. The course book is helpful but not critical since it mainly restates what she says in her videos.

He got over the middle school comments when I told him I thought that only mattered for people who care more about test scores than actual learning. And it’s true: we have to balance all of this because in the end, a lot of people out there are just trying to succeed economically; wisdom isn’t even given a thought.

Would I recommend it? Yes. Yes I would. To be honest, my son’s initial PSAT scores were unexpectedly low. I say “unexpected” because he’s a gifted student pretty fluent in two dead languages who had just started calculus. I immediately felt like it was my fault — like I’d possibly been so focused on the ideal that I put him at a disadvantage.

College Prep Genius filled that gap for us. It did just as it promised, bumping his scores up about 250 points. Ultimately, that was what we wanted. The CLT told us what he ought to have scored on the SAT according to their results; we wanted to see that happen in reality …

The program gets a happy heart emoji from me!

Now he has fully respectable SAT scores waiting in the wings if he needs them … and we can get back to the important stuff: the books. 😉

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6 Comments

  • Reply Ariana July 16, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    I was wondering about your comment on MEP not preparing your oldest well for the SAT’s math. Have you switched to something different for your other children? We are starting Year 5 in MEP, for my 6th grader who hates math but wants to be an engineer. :-/ I keep wondering if I should try something different for him, and I’m not sure what I will do when he finishes Year 6. We are going to start having him do Khan Academy for a week every month or so when I am out of town for work, and I’m hoping that different perspective will help his math brain. (And of course, he can do that in his spare time when I’m home, too!) I have stuck with MEP and am starting it with my younger kids due to the testimonials I’ve heard of how it helps kids solve problems rather than doing the mechanical steps, but I have never tried anything else!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 17, 2019 at 2:39 pm

      I really do NOT regret doing MEP. It’s just good to note that SAT math should be gone over before taking the test. In the A-levels of MEP, there actually is mechanics! Now, what other curriculum is going to give you child that? I think it’s great. My 11th grader did the A-levels in Pure Mathematics the second half of this year and it was wonderful.

  • Reply Flannery June 29, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Hey, thanks, this is useful to know! My oldest is starting Grade 7 this year so I am just starting to think about things like this. 🙂

  • Reply the.china.lady June 26, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Being 2 overly educated people, we’ve taken a lot of tests in our lives. And I took a “writing exams” course in my graduate studies. Yes, test taking is a skill in and of its self. Esp in these standardized exams. When I was teaching in a classroom, and Hubby now teaching undergrads, we have both talked about how to take a test. And taken time to teach students test taking skills.

    Both my kids have shown inclination towards ‘beating the system’ and ‘outsmarting the adults’ (maybe its how we parent?) so I’m not too worried for them when we start talking about how to take a test. On the other hand, I’m glad we live in a state I don’t have to start talking about it yet.

    I love that your hubby attended the conference with you! I might have to work on convincing my Hubby that its worth it for him. 😀

  • Reply Claire June 26, 2019 at 3:11 am

    So, the SAT tests a student’s ability to take an SAT. And colleges care what the result is. What a crazy world we live in…

    And start testing in middle school??? ugh

    • Reply Brandy Vencel June 26, 2019 at 9:21 am

      I think once the feds started giving government loans, the colleges stopped caring about the important things and became all about how to get government dollars: more students. I saw this happening when I was on staff at a university for a few years: each year brought a crop of less-qualified students than the year before, and professors all over were forced to dumb down the material. It was sad.

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