Most high school students take the SAT as part of the application process for college. Very few achieve the highest score, 1600, and many are thrilled if their scores hit the 1300 mark. My daughter Alissa began the process of preparing for the SAT as a seventh-grader at Piedmont Open Middle School, when she was accepted into the Duke University Talent Identification Program’s Seventh Grade Talent Search. At 12 she was offered the opportunity to take a “practice run” on the real SAT, alongside college-bound high school students. Alissa felt overwhelmed at first, but I assured her that it would help her become familiar with the test before she had to take it for college entrance purposes.
When Alissa was a sophomore at the Cannon School in Concord, North Carolina, we discussed what to do about the SAT. Should we enroll her in a preparation program? In a way, that felt like cheating by “teaching to the test.” We decided that Alissa was a smart young lady, and we would count on her own abilities to get her through the test. If she did poorly on the PSAT in her sophomore year, we would reconsider.
She did well on the PSAT. When she took the SAT in the spring of her junior year, she also did wellÑnot fabulously, but well (1190). We revisited the idea of her taking a preparation course, even considering a one-on-one program recommended by a friend, but decided against it. The exorbitant cost and the time commitment were big factors, as was our philosophy that, again, it seemed like cramming for the test. Instead, Alissa borrowed a computer SAT preparation program from a friend and worked on it a few times. She brushed up on her vocabulary all year longÑthose word-a-day calendars are great for this. In addition, she read the book Up Your Score, by Larry Berger (Workman; updated biennially), and answered practice test questions from an SAT preparation guide she found at the public library. The books offered strategy suggestions, only some of which she heeded. When she took the SAT for the final time in the fall of her senior year, she raised her score by 80 points (1270). She attributed most of the increase to the strategy of leaving questions unanswered if she was unsure.
Alissa is one of the few students at her school who also took the ACT exam. She preferred the format of the ACT and felt that it was a better indicator of acquired learning. She earned a score of 27 (out of 36), which was in the high-average range. Again, she had prepared only by reading a book and practicing sample questions.
Alissa is not unlike many other high school students. She was very busy during her final years of high school, both inside and outside school. Imposing extra stressors on our child (i.e., finding time to attend a preparation class, doing the “homework” it called for, and feeling pressured to “do well” after we had paid for the class) didn’t seem like a wise thing to do. I am satisfied that she put forth her best effort and earned a good score.
Alissa was admitted to four out of the five colleges and universities to which she applied. She received invitations to several honors programs and received partial scholarship offers from a few. Alissa is attending the College of Charleston this fall. One thing is certain: she is glad that she doesn’t have to take the SAT again!
Marci Mroz is the mother of two intellectually gifted daughters: Alissa is a freshman in the Honors Program at the College of Charleston, and Stacy is in the fifth grade at Metrolina Regional Scholars’ Academy (MRSA), a charter school for highly gifted children in Charlotte, North Carolina. Marci is the editor of MRSA’s weekly newsletter and is very active in the school. She is a member of the North Carolina Association for Gifted and Talented and works part-time for Child and Family Development Inc.
Students comments about taking the SAT
- “Students want to be more than just a number in the eyes of their college professors, but they are accepted to schools based on an abstract number that is supposed to predict their learning ability,” says Alissa. “How will knowing ‘Wood is to splinter as bread is to crumb’ predict how successful a person will be in college or in life?”
- “People think in different ways, and for the SAT, you just have to think one single way,” says Kristin, who achieved a perfect 1600.
- Caroline considers her score of 1320 “below average,” but she notes, “I still got into the college of my choice [Hamilton College], so SATs matter much less than the other aspects of your college application.”