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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