PREPARING FOR THE SAT I
Maturation calls into sharp focus our views of reality, the meaning of life, and other existential concepts. In the book Father Sergius by Leo Tolstoy, the protagonist Augusto Perez shakes his fist at God and asks, “Am I a creature of fiction?” This is the central question haunting modern society. In a way, too, it is the question I hear many young people ask.
In 2009 Western society, we are asking that question at the university.
The first modern university was Halle University, founded in 1694. From the beginning, universities have wrestled with accepting truth as an absolute reality or seeing truth as an objective intellectual quest. The quest, unfortunately, has led us to many dead ends.
The modern university is a hostile environment for most Christians. It appears to be King Belshazzar’s feast (Daniel 5), an undisciplined intellectual orgy of knowledge worship, instead of a time on Mount Horeb, a humble recognition of Godâ€™s omnipotence. Moses, at the burning bush (Exodus 3), freely admits his human limits and extolls Godâ€™s holy name. Like Moses, present-day Christians must know who they are and who their God is.
Christian students are called to act as if they are on Mount Horeb even if they are in the middle of Belshazzar’s feast. They are called to be salt and light in a hostile environment.
Where do they begin? As far as college admission goes, the Scholastic Assessment Test__SAT I–is a critical first step.
It is important to understand that the SAT I is an aptitude test, not an achievement test (like the Iowa Basics or Stanford Tests or ACT). The SAT II or Subject Area Exams are achievement tests. The SAT I is a math and English testâ€“there is no history, science, or any other subjects on the exam (although students will need these other subject for college admission).
The College BoardÂ® claimsâ€“and I believe itâ€“that almost 4 out of every 5 American colleges require the SAT I. That is not bad news. Christian students in general, home schooled Christian students in particular, are doing very well on the SAT I. I sensed that this was true when I wrote The SAT and College Preparation Course for the Christian Student (Eugene, Oregon, 1998, 2005, 2009). However, I had no idea how well Christians would do on the SAT I and how important spiritual preparation was to those high scores.
Christians should view preparation for the SAT I as an opportunity to grapple with an important question: Can they become what God is calling them to be? They won’t have the whole answer to this vital question at the end of their SAT preparation, but this can be a first step.
Students usually take the SAT I during the second semester of their junior year or first semester of their senior year. It measures their potential success in college, but it does not necessarily measure their information acquisition and assimilation skills. It has absolutely nothing at all to do with a student’s worth or esteem in God’s eyes.
The math portion and the verbal portion of the SAT are much different from the SAT some of us took several decades ago. There are more analysis questions, vocabulary is understood almost entirely in context, and there will be exercises requiring students to compare two reading passages. They will even have to write in some answers, instead of just picking a letter! There will be no antonyms on the SAT I, but double the number of reading comprehension questions. Finally, students will be allowed to use a calculator to help them with the math portion of the exam.
Vocabulary development is critical. As a matter of fact, I judge that 40 percent of the questions on the verbal portion of the SAT are related to vocabulary. Since analogies will be dropped and vocabulary problems will be increased, there are indications that that percentage will decrease on the 2009 exam. But that does not mean that students should ignore vocabulary development. Therefore, more than ever, it is vital that students learn the Latin/Greek roots of words. Also they should learn to define words in context. It is a waste of time for students to memorize the 500 most frequently used words on the SAT I. A better approach is to read good books (a list is included in the back of The SAT and College Preparation Course for the Christian Student). This is time_consuming and arduous, but I can’t see any better way to learn vocabulary for the SAT. Being fluent in Latin and Greek would help our children show off at the Dunster House in Harvard Yard, but probably not necessary to do well on the SAT as long as they knows their roots. Spelling skills will not increase SAT scores. In conclusion, the best preparation for the SAT I is a rigorous reading program that will both increase vocabulary and reading skills. My 30 years of coaching experience confirms to me that the student who reads more, scores higher. The single best preparation for the SAT I, therefore, is reading a lot of good books. Parenthetically, a classical approach to education, based on reading classics, which includes a whole book, essay-based language arts curriculum will ultimately generate the highest SAT I scores. This approach increases reading and thinking skills that will no doubt increase SAT I scores.
Higher level critical thinking is important to high SAT I scores. The SAT I is a cognitive, developmentally-based exam which assumes that students learn in stages. Bloomâ€™s Taxonomy is frequently a reference resource for cognitive developmental thinking. Bloomâ€™s Taxonomy argues that students learn in six stages. Most of the questions on the SAT I are based on the last three levels: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. As a matter of fact, unless students are able to function at these higher thinking levels, they are doomed to manifest scores below 1400.
The SAT I will require abundant critical thinking. Therefore, any SAT Preparation Coaching course should be supplemented with a classical-based, critical thinking high school program. Inevitably, for instance, a critical thinking-friendly language arts program will teach literary analysis of whole books. That is a litmus test for higher level thinking. Critical thinking-friendly math programs will offer numerous world problems.
60 percent of the present SAT I is critical reading exercises. That percentage will increase with the exam. In fact, the College Board is renaming the verbal section of the SAT I â€œCritical Reading Section.â€ This change in titling shows how serious the College Board folks are about critical reading. The verbal section will no longer include analogies. Instead, short reading passages will be added to existing long reading passages. A new section called the SAT writing section will be added. It will contain multiple-choice grammar questions as well as a written essay. That is good news to most classical-educated students who have spent years studying grammar and writing.
Students do not have to know how to solve quadratic equations to do well on the math portion of the SAT I. Some algebra and basic geometry is helpful, but I have found that the key to high performance on the math portion is the same as it is on the verbal portion: critical thinking and critical reading skills. Thus, best scores come from individuals who think well and read well__even if their math skills are average. The 2005 SAT I math section will not only cover concepts from geometry and elementary algebra, it will contain concepts from Algebra II. The math computation on the SAT I is usually not difficult. What makes the math portion of the SAT I so difficult is that it is presented in a word problem format. Thus strong critical thinking and advanced critical reading skills will increase SAT I math as well as SAT I verbal scores. The addition of Algebra II computations should not alarm good students. Good students, especially good home schooled students, usually have had or are taking Algebra II before or during the junior year when the SAT I should be taken.
The best time to take the SAT I is May or June of oneâ€™s junior year. This allows students to retake the SAT I October of their senior year if necessary. Coaching is very helpful if the student implements a long- term programâ€“as advocated in The SAT and College Preparation Course. Without long-term coaching, there is no correlation between the frequency of taking aptitude tests (e.g., SAT I and IQ tests) and increased scores. Therefore, I recommend that students take as many unofficial, old, real (i. e., from the College Board) SAT Is as they can. Students should avoid the high cost of taking stressful official tests at their local high schools and universities. They are much better off if they take practice tests. Practice SAT Is can be obtained by contacting me (www.forsuchatimeasthis.com) or they can be borrowed from some libraries. Remember, there is evidence that a small percentage of colleges average SAT I scores (rather than accept the highest score). Therefore, students should anonymously obtain as many unofficial scores as they can and then take the test one or two times officially.
Finally, my 30 years of coaching remind me how important stress reduction is to high SAT I scores. In fact, in my opinion, it is the most important preparation variable. For Christians, at least, stress reduction is best accomplished by a frequent and rigorous devotional and Bible memorization program.
I am excited about the SAT I. It is tailor-made for Christian believers. Never has an exam so heavily depended on empathic stress reduction and critical thinking. Shorter, leaner, and meaner to most, to Spirit-filled Christiansâ€“particularly Christian home schooled students–theSAT I is a gift from God. It is not knowledge that trips up Christian students most of the time. It is the time restrictions and inexperience with test-taking. In my wildest and fondest dreams I could not have created a better test for my brothers and sisters in Christ. With its emphasis on higher math, increased reading passages, writing samples and grammar, the SAT I should generate unprecedented high scores for students who devote themselves to a one-to-three-year discipline of preparation that includes Bible readings, Scripture memorization, critical reading samples, and test-taking strategies.
One final question: why go through all this hassle of preparing for a man-made test? God is in control of our lives, right? Yes, but perhaps He has put this test in front of us, not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity to witness for our Lord. We shall see.