Doing well on the SAT is not about learning a lot of content.
In my last post, I examined the myth that learning some tricks, techniques or strategies can help someone get big increase in their SAT score. They can’t. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you, and you should run the other way.
If you really want to increase your SAT score in a significant way, there’s someone else you should be aware of, too. That’s the person who tells you that the most important thing to learn is the content of the test.
I can hear the objections already.
“What are you talking about? Of course the content is the most important thing. If you don’t know the content, how can you possibly do well on the test? You even hinted at that in your last post, when you suggested that if you were an expert in psychology you might have been able to help your friend with his exam.”
That’s true, of course. To do well on any test, you have to know the content of the test. If someone were to make me take a test right now on 17th Century French Literature, I would fail it big time.
But the SAT isn’t 17th Century French Literature. It’s not rocket science. It’s not brain surgery. Most kids already know most of the content that they have to know to do way better on the SAT than they thought was possible based on their PSAT score.
I have no scientific data to back this up, but my gut tells me that most kids have enough knowledge of the content to score 300 points higher.
It’s a bold claim. I know. I’m saying that a kid who gets a 1500 on the PSAT knows enough content to be able to get a 1800 on the SAT. (By the way, multiply the PSAT score by 100 to get the SAT equivalent.) If you got an 1800 on the PSAT, you know enough content to get a 2100 on the SAT. And if you got a 2100 on the PSAT, you know enough content to get a perfect score of 2400 on the SAT.
How is this possible? There’s just not that much content, and by the time you take the SAT at the end of your junior year, you’ve already learned it.
The Math section is mostly basic geometry and algebra. The Writing section covers just a handful of grammar rules. The Critical Reading section? Well, by the time a student gets to the second semester of her junior year in high school, if she can’t read, she probably isn’t taking the SAT.
Yesterday, one of my students asked me how to do a math problem. I said, “Suppose your father told you that if you get it right, you can have any car you want. How would you solve it?”
He got the problem right.
Of course a few key pieces of content can help. Of course. Presumably, everyone who is tutoring kids for the SAT, every employee of every test prep company, understands all of the content and can explain it ad nauseam.
It won’t separate a someone who can really help your child from someone who can only help a little. And that study I referenced in an earlier blog post, Can Preparing for the SAT Really Help You Increase Your Score?, was right about one thing: Most people who pay for SAT prep raise their scores by only a small amount.