Friday, October 2, 2009

Review: College Prep Genius

A few weeks ago I gave an introduction to COLLEGE PREP GENIUS, a SAT preparation course. You can view that introduction here.

The COLLEGE PREP GENIUS course consists of a text, a workbook, and a DVD course. The text is divided into eight parts:

Part I: Important SAT & PSAT/NMSQT Information
Part II: The Critical Reading Section
Part III: The Math Section
Part IV: The Writing Section
Part V: The Essay
Part VI: Scholarship Search
Part VII: Comparison Chart
Part VIII: Journal and Checklist for Success

COLLEGE PREP GENIUS is not an academic course; it assumes that the student already has a foundation of the academic material. What the course does do is reveal the patterns common to the SAT, the type of questions one might expect and a recommended method to approaching each question type. The end goal is a great SAT score that will result in numerous scholarship offers.

Jean Burk, COLLEGE PREP GENIUS author, starts the text by giving general information on the SAT and PSAT tests and how they differ from other standardized tests. The SAT is a test of reasoning and logic, rather than achievement or knowledge like the ACT. This is not a simple introduction; Burk includes everything students need to know about the SAT, from general information on the SAT to specifics of test day.

Next, questions from each section of the test are covered. Students are taught to make good use of their pencils by circling key words and crossing out obviously wrong answers. Time saving techniques, e.g. knowing where to look for information in passages without reading the entire passage, are also shared. Other helpful information, such as a lists of helpful prefixes and a table to 300 math terms, is also included.

Because it is a standardized test, the SAT has certain question patterns that it follows each time. Knowing these patterns will greatly improve your score and allow you to make better use of your time in showing your abilities. Each section gives a step-by-step explanation for approaching particular patterns and question styles. For each question type, Burk has created a unique acronym as a memory aid for the material taught in the text. Students are to diligently memorize the acronyms to utilize during the actual test. An example of one of the shorter acronyms is ROMAN, which is for the what Burk calls the “Roman Numeral Type Question”:

Remember to IGNORE Segment 2
Operate the question from every angle
Mark ALL correct answers on Segment 1
Analyze answers marked
Now match Segment 1 answers with Segment 2

There are about 25 acronym words covering the whole test. Some are strung together for one approach, such as HOT POWERFUL PAPER, which applies to the essay section.

The workbook has students actively apply what they've learned in the text with lists of the acronyms and practice questions for each section.

The DVDs cover all the material in the text verbally and through a sideshow presentation. There are four discs: Intro to the SAT (35 minutes), Critical Reading (1:33), Math (2:15), and Writing (1:15). The DVD course may be a better option for visual learners or to reinforce what is read in the text. The DVD set also makes this course available for group learning. (Note: All classroom participants should purchase their own text and workbook and are required to pay a small licensing fee).

As an accelerated middle school student, my daughter has already taken the ACT as a tool for yearly assessment rather than a grade-level standardized test like the CAT or IOWA. It was taken with little preparation except time management, some question exposure and bubbling practice. In our case of using such an exam as a diagnotic tool, extensive preparation is not always appropriate at this point. I was already planning to use the SAT for assessment this year and COLLEGE PREP GENIUS looks to be a great tool to prepare with sample questions and general exposure on what to expect.

However, when the stakes are college program acceptance and scholarship offers, more thorough preparation will certainly be part of the game plan, as it will be with the masses of other graduating high school students trying to wow universities. It is interesting to see the recommendations on how a student might truly prepare for such an exam when the stakes are high. Since my daughter's previous experience was with the achievement-based ACT, ways to approach a reasoning test like the SAT is also very beneficial.

To examine the effectiveness of this course, I started by having my daughter take a section of a retired SAT test in a study guide (available from the College Board, bookstores or your local library) prior to going over any material. This was the first time she had attempted any SAT questions and had no prior knowledge on what to expect. I then had her read through the corresponding section of the COLLEGE PREP GENIUS text two days in a row. The following day I had her take that section again with a different test version. I did this because I knew she would likely recognize the questions and recall some of her previous thought process of eliminating answers, perhaps giving an advantage. A fresh set of questions would better help gauge the effectiveness of the information. There was a 20% improvement in her score just from that one step. Next, I had her write down the acronym for use during the test. I did not have her memorize it, but providing it to her would give the same result had she actually memorized it. This time the score dropped from the second attempt, falling almost exactly between the first and second. I suspect the acronym was a bit distracting and she did better off intuitively using the information she learned in the text rather than referring to the acronym, at least at this point. Regardless of the acronym use, I have no doubt that the content in the text will help improve scores, especially after more practice.

Being in the Midwest, which at one time predominantly used the ACT, I personally had no experience with the SAT test. I learned quite a bit about the types of questions my daughter will see on the exam and how to coach her to best approach them. The general information on the exam is also useful as well as the the section on scholarships at the end of the text. I am a bit unsure on the acronyms. First of all, there are quite a few to memorize and some of the associations are quite a stretch and lengthy. For example, in ROMAN, the N stands for “now”. Most students could easily remember “now”, but the critical information is that which follows, “match Segment 1 answers with Segment 2”. To use the acronyms effectively, students will need to know the text information inside and out and spend significant time memorizing phrases for each letter in the acronym. To be clear, Burk does not suggest this is an easy process. In fact, she acknowledges this will be hard work and that the handsome offers of scholarship money will make it all worthwhile. At first introduction though, the acronyms as a way to remember the approach seem overwhelming. I'm not sure if I'll have my daughter memorize all the acronyms; based on our limited trial run, I suspect it may be unnecessary for her after sufficient practice with the different types of questions. Of course, the acronyms will be useful individually for particular sections that are more troublesome or need a boost.

As far as presentation of material, I find the introduction materials (the first 38 pages) a bit scattered. There is quite a bit of repeating information and the presentation seems a bit disjointed. The content is interesting, but the layout and presentation of information could use some improvement. I didn't have this problem once the text moved into the actual SAT sections. Also bothersome were the numerous typos and formatting issues in the text, such as missing letters, a repeated paragraph, misplaced capitalization, etc. While a pet peeve of mine, it is more an annoyance than an impact on usability in this case.

Overall, there is plenty useful in this course to prepare a student for the SAT. The awareness of the question patterns and the most efficient way to approach them is sure to be very beneficial and better scores. As I stated in my earlier introduction, knowing the rules of the game is key.

The COLLEGE PREP GENIUS materials sell for the follow:

College Prep Genius Text
- $39.95
College Prep Genius Workbook - $15.95
"Master the SAT Class" DVD set - $59.95

For a limited time, you can purchase the above three items as a package for $79.00, which is 30% off the regular price.

With some SAT prep courses costing in the thousands, this is a more economical option to prepare students to take the all-important SAT with hopes of wonderful scholarship offers. To purchase or learn more, visit the COLLEGE PREP GENIUS website. Jean Burk also has several informative articles posted on her website that may be of interest.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough review of your experience. It was very useful.