Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier, 2014

Synopsis (from Goodreads - I clipped off a couple paragraphs because it's really long):

It all began as an attempt by Debbie Stier to help her high-school age son, Ethan, who would shortly be studying for the SAT. Aware that Ethan was a typical teenager (i.e., completely uninterested in any test) and that a mind-boggling menu of test-prep options existed, she decided – on his behalf -- to sample as many as she could to create the perfect SAT test-prep recipe.
Debbie’s quest turned out to be an exercise in both hilarity and heartbreak as she took the SAT seven times in one year and in-between “went to school” on standardized testing. Here, she reveals why the SAT has become so important, the cottage industries it has spawned, what really works in preparing for the test and what is a waste of time.
Both a toolbox of fresh tips and an amusing snapshot of parental love and wisdom colliding with teenage apathy, The Perfect Score Project rivets. In the book Debbie does it all: wrestles with Kaplan and Princeton Review, enrolls in Kumon, navigates, meets regularly with a premier grammar coach, takes a battery of intelligence tests, and even cadges free lessons from the world’s most prestigious (and expensive) test prep company.
Along the way she answers the questions that plague every test-prep rookie, including: “When do I start?”...”Do the brand-name test prep services really deliver?”...”Which should I go with: a tutor, an SAT class, or self study?”...”Does test location really matter?” … “How do I find the right tutor?”… “How do SAT scores affect merit aid?”... and “What’s the one thing I need to know?”The Perfect Score Project’s combination of charm, authority, and unexpected poignancy makes it one of the most compulsively readable guides to SAT test prep ever – and a book that will make you think hard about what really matters.
(304 pages)

So, I realize this is a bit off the beaten track for this blog. "Where's the YA?" you ask. "Or at the very least MG like last week's review?" Well, bare with me on this one. I'm a high school junior, okay? I saw a review of this book at Tea Time With Annie Kate and knew immediately that I needed to read it. And I did. And now I'm going to review it.

This book is part memoir, part how-to guide. The story of Debbie's path to understanding the SAT intertwines with revelations about her relationship with her children and her approach to parenting teenagers. I'm going to break it down into the two components and review them separately, but if you want the short version, here it is: high schoolers, read this book only if you want to start panicking about the SAT! If you do want to start panicking, then this is a good place to start.

First, the personal story line. Debbie is one of those super-obsessive moms who latch onto something and don't let it go. It gets a bit much for both me and her children (who revolt at the idea of Kumon lessons and move in with their dad) somewhere around the middle, but she pulls out strong at the end of the year/story. It was nice seeing that relationship, and the very promise that she loves her son so much she takes seven SATs to motivate him is pretty neat.

As an aside, how much money has this lady got? She spent half the book buying various test prep sources, the fate of which she describes on page 98:
. . . my shelf of rejects bulged ever wider until I had to move the forsaken books to a larger space downstairs, and then ultimately, when they outgrew that room too, to the big bookshelf in the sky.
Anyway, on to the SAT portion. I know very little about the SAT, but she knows a ton. She tried just about every resource there is out there and weeded out quite a few bad ones. It's extremely intimidating reading about the amount of prep that goes into taking that test - for some people at least. How can I compete with private tutors and hours spent poring over old tests like they're the new Bible? I suppose the answer involves a huge amount of work, and I'm not exactly thrilled about beginning. However, when I do I'll be sure to use this book (and the website that goes with it) as a resource. My biggest fault with the book? No "cheat sheet" in the back. An appendix summarizing good study techniques and bad ones would have been so helpful. Fingers crossed that's on the website.

Lack of appendix aside, this book is chock full of every SAT prep tip imaginable, about everything from what snacks to bring (she recommends dark chocolate, water, a sliced red apple, and Listerine strips) to how to motivate a teenager to study (parental enthusiasm and involvement). The results she came to at the end of her trial and error experiment don't seem exotic or crazy; they scream "experience" more than most SAT "tip" books. By the end of the year, Debbie saw the SAT as one big puzzle she would never be able to crack. She had fun trying, but she just didn't have the math background to do it.

The biggest take-away I got from the book is to take the SAT multiple times, so it's not do-or-die the first few times. I'm going to peruse her website a bit more to see if there are any more specific tips I can glean (the book is good, and the tips are put together in gray boxes to separate them from the rest of the narrative, but it's still a pain to find anything in it). I'm not going to say this is the be all and end all of SAT prep advice books, because I don't know enough about the SAT to know that. I do, however, know that this is a good place to start my journey to the SAT.


  1. Thanks for linking to me.

    And now I hope you aren't panicking! If you have a good basic education, you'll do very well without any trouble. My kids did very well with no more than about 40-50 hours of studying, and as little as 20 hours. We used the Barron's SAT prep test book and my kids did from 2-4 practice tests each. Just make sure you know the basics well, read widely, and if your math skills are weak use MathScore (if they are very weak) or ALEKS (if they are not too bad) for as long as possible. And practice writing short essays.

    All the best in your education!

    1. Thank you, Annie Kate! Your advice makes me feel a lot better about the whole SAT test prep thing. We have a copy of the blue book from College Board, and are going to work our way through it. I used Barron's for the SAT math I subject test, but it wasn't very good. I know most test prep book series vary wildly in quality per different tests, though. I'll look at Barron's SAT book.


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