The Ivy Bound SAT Test Prep Philosophy
by Mark Greenstein, Founder and Lead Instructor of Ivy Bound Test Prep
How to Get the Most Out of Ivy Bound Test Prep
We at Ivy Bound realize that an SAT tutoring course represents a serious investment of time, energy, and financial resources. As private educators, it is our mission to see that both you and your child get as great a return on that investment as is possible. With that end in mind, we'd like to make a few suggestions.
Please be diligent about Home Study assignments. Our teaching time presents and reinforces every strategy we know for SAT success, but this is still not enough to MASTER them. Home Study is assigned and targeted for a reason: it allows students to apply concepts learned in the last lesson to a variety of problems. Without this practice, students may think they understand a concept, but falter when it comes time to apply it. We recommend at least one hour of Home Study between meetings with an instructor, and preferably two hours. (The Home Study problems are assigned in the first pages of the Ivy Bound binder.) In addition, most students should devote 10 minutes a day to vocabulary study.
Without a commitment to Home Study and vocabulary review, a student is, in effect, only completing half the class. Please help us to maximize your child's scores by encouraging the weekly Home Study follow-through.
Please plan to have your teen make time to complete three full length practice tests before his/her SAT date. Practice tests are a valuable way to assess progress and prepare for the actual full length exam. We normally expect a parent to be the timekeeper for these tests. We invite all of our private tutoring students to attend organized practice tests at any of our open class sites. Please e-mail us six weeks prior to the target test date so we can inform you of any practice test sites in your area.
Our most successful students take advantage of the extra resources Ivy Bound has to offer. We make every effort to go the extra mile for our students. This includes electronic explanations for assigned Home Study questions, e-mailed word lists, topical math software available upon request, vocabulary quizzes available through our student website www.ivycontact.net, and access to "Help Line", our conference call sessions. For the rest of the year, our conference call number is (withheld). We "meet" promptly at 9:15pm eastern on Tuesdays (verbal) and Thursdays (math). Please use only a land line OR a cell phone with a highly reliable signal.
We also have a conference call for Parents. Each month Mark Greenstein or one of our senior instructors fills in parents, particularly parents of 9th and 10th graders, on the following topics:
- What is tested on the current SAT and how should kids attack it?
- Where does the SAT fit into the college admissions scheme?
- Where do the SAT II tests fit in and when should we schedule these?
- Is the SAT fair, is it coachable, is it culturally biased?
- Don't grades count anymore?
- What's the use of the PSAT?
- How does Early Decision affect admissions?
- What else are colleges looking for?
- How does the ACT differ from the SAT?
- What are AP Tests and when do students take these?
- The Ivy Bound Course and how to get the most out of it. (optional last 10 min.)
The calls take place on the first Sunday of every month at
9:15pm eastern using
218-844-0850 x 429601 . No reservations are needed. Just chime in between 9:12 and 9:15pm. My staffers are happy to e-mail replies to parents' thoughtful follow-up questions on the above topics.
We understand the schedule restrictions most teens are under and that budgeting time for a far-off priority is difficult. For students who make SAT prep a NEAR term priority (treat their 3 - 5 months with us as they do an honors course), we can almost guarantee a vastly better score.
If you have questions, please e-mail or call our office (877-975-1600) and someone will be happy to assist you.
The best results come when students reinforce what they learn soon after learning it. That's why your teacher will strongly suggest reviewing the notes from class WITHIN 24 HOURS of having class. Take 15 - 20 minutes to do this. Then apply some of those skills to homework examples.
Most of the homework is segmented according to difficulty. Students already scoring in the 600s don't need to work on level 1 problems - so we put the 4s and 5s together. Students still below 500 should be concentrating on the Level 2s and 3s.
Each class has a suggested calendar for getting through a minimum of 50 hours of home study by test day. A student who can devote two good hours a day three days a week is on pace to do this over a nine week course. Accordingly, the Ivy Bound calendars each place "home study" on a par with Lesson attendance. The only difference in importance is that you are on your own for the home study.
The SAT test is well-crafted. Accordingly, part of home study should be devoted to truly understanding problems. That means not merely doing the problem and checking whether it's right, but understanding why each wrong answer is wrong. On selected questions, Ivy Bound will point every student to erroneous answers that routinely attract students. We call this "identifying land mines" and we think it's important to see them even if you got the answer right.
Practice SATs make use of actual 1999 and 2000 SATs. The scoring tables are the same as used on the actual SAT test, so the student gets an accurate assessment under timed conditions. In most locations we schedule these practice SATs for 8am Saturday mornings, so as to accustom students to the test even more. To get the most out of the Reviews that follow the practice SATs we strongly suggest that the student turn to the problems missed while at home. Then he/she is better armed when the teacher covers that problem in Review. Furthermore, since many students don't get to every question during the timed test, spending time at home to complete the test is worthy.
We have one piece of advice that far too many guidance counselors don't follow, and on this one we know we're right: START EARLY. Colleges do not penalize an applicant for taking the SAT two or three times. The SAT is not a test that rewards skills acquired only in Senior year. The only academic background needed to take advantage of the Ivy Bound course is a semester each of Algebra I and Geometry. Since most students have this by tenth grade, there is nothing wrong with taking the SAT test at the end of 10th grade or the beginning of 11th. We like to see kids sitting on solid SAT scores by winter of Junior year. That frees them to concentrate on their academics in Junior spring and Senior year. It also frees them to take the courses they really want to. Strong scores earned early allow students more fervent participation in the extra-curricular activities. The confidence a strong SAT score bring just may allow the kids to have FUN, which we're in favor of too.
All other things being equal, if you need to prepare for the SAT, do so when you have the most time. SAT test preparation is work. A good SAT prep class will demand as much time as an honors high school class. Thus, students need to beware of an overload and schedule their prep time accordingly. If it's during the academic year, avoid committing to a full course of study in the same semester as playing a varsity sport.
SAT IIs(now the SAT Subject Tests)
The SAT IIs are what many of us remember as "Achievement Tests". These are one-hour tests that assess proficiency in history, advanced math, the sciences, English, and most languages commonly offered in schools. Twenty years ago the Achievement tests had little or no relevance on college admission decisions - they were primarily used for advanced placement purposes. Now, top tier colleges expect to see strong scores on at least two, and typically three, SAT IIs.
The SAT IIs are given on the same dates as the SAT I. Students can choose to take one, two or three SAT IIs on any of six dates during the year. We do not recommend three tests at a time, mainly because concentration tends to fall off in the third hour. Students who wish to take three or more SAT IIs can spread these out.
Since the SAT IIs cannot be taken on the same test date as the SAT I, planning ahead is key. On SAT II subjects that require lots of memorization, it is often good to schedule them to coincide with the end of a semester, when the student has to review for finals anyhow, or at the beginning of the following semester, to have the benefit of the complete curriculum plus some review time. Thus we like seeing students scheduling SAT IIs for June, December, and January.
Most kids have less academic work in the summer. For this reason, summer classes tend to be the best time to concentrate on SAT test preparation. Since the SAT is largely a test of skills, rather than memorization, there is little diminution in abilities, even with a two month hiatus between the summer classes and test day.
To prevent against ANY diminution, indeed to enhance abilities between the end of summer classes and the fall SAT, we suggest a study regime of 2 - 4 hours during each week when prep classes are not in session. Ivy Bound resumes its Review sessions prior to the October and November SATs.
We don't want to replace your school guidance counselor, particularly if she or he is a college admissions specialist. The scheduling suggestions above should only be taken on with the individual's schedule in mind, and perhaps with the school's as well.
A Sample Plan
- Sophomore year, October: take PSAT to get used to the test taking environment and to assess whether to take a prep course next summer.
- Sophomore year, June: take SAT IIs for one or two subjects in which you have done well but will not be continuing with next year.
- Summer prior to Junior year: prepare for the SAT I and perhaps the PSAT as well.
- Junior year, October: take PSAT for real.
- Junior year, October, November or December: take SAT I.
- Junior year, December, January or March: take SAT I again, with the goal of adding on another 50+ points.
- Junior year, May or June: take two other SAT IIs in subjects where you have done well.
- Summer prior to Senior year: travel if you have the opportunity. Do some work though, even if you don't need the money.
- Late summer: visit college campuses that are back in session.
- Senior fall, if necessary: take the October SAT. That's early enough to apply Early Decision to any college.
Some of you are new to the modern College admissions process. We who attended high school in the '60s, '70s, and '80s didn't face the same pressures and timetables that college-bound kids face in this decade.
Whether to invest effort in prep for standardized tests is greatly determined by the student's goals. It also relates to the student's GPA. Except in the case of athletes, no college counts the SAT test more highly than overall GPA. But recognize that the time spent prepping for and taking one test is miniscule compared to the time spent collectively working towards good high school grades.
For the varsity athlete, many colleges weigh SAT scores especially highly, because they know that it is very difficult for busy athletes to garner the very best grades. Thus the admissions committees look at an athlete's high SAT score as excellent reassurance that she/he can do college level work.
For all who are seeking merit-based scholarships (which abound at every "tier" of colleges) the SAT is now the single biggest determinant of merit scholarship awards.
For the hard-charging student who will be aggressive in getting hired from college (or grad school), the benefit of being in a better-ranked college program is somewhat calculable: all other things being equal, graduating from a college one tier better, is likely to result in a difference of OVER $1,000,000 in lifetime earnings (higher if you presume a decent chance of marrying a college sweetheart who's equally aggressive).
For first-time parents with busy kids, allow me to lay out the time spent / reward ratio:
- SAT I Verbal - skills come quickly, as only three skills are tested. Vocabulary does not. Verbal study means that there is fairly little class time needed (8 - 12 hours), but commitment to memorizing vocabulary, either alone or with a drilling teacher or parent, is an important additional commitment.
- SAT I Math - Slow. (12 - 20 hours) Since there are so many skills tested, including reasoning skills that students may not have been exposed to in high school, this is a big endeavor, in and out of class.
- SAT II Writing - Fast. 5 - 8 hours with us will almost guarantee a 600+ score even for students whose grammar is now weak. Experienced readers who work on their essays under our tutelage should be in the 700s (or higher). Unfortunately, this is a second tier test for some colleges.
- Other SAT II tests - though many Ivy Bound instructors coach them, we first recommend using your own high school teacher to fill you in on the tested stuff that was not covered in class.
- ACT - Slow, because there's more variety of questions, including science reasoning, trigonometry and higher-level math. Our view is to spend whatever time you'd otherwise spend prepping for and taking the ACT and invest it into SAT prep. If after diligently prepping for the SAT and taking it twice, the score is still far from helping you to your choice college, then ACT prep makes sense.
We have no problem with students taking the ACT as a sophomore year experiment, within 6 weeks of taking the SAT, and comparing scores. If the ACT comes back more promising, then ACT-only may be the way to go.
Though I never want to replace a good guidance counselor, I and some of our instructors are willing to advise students on how to best present their credentials to colleges. For a general approach, join us on our "Sunday Conversations", the Conference call we conduct the first Sunday of February, April, June, August, and October at 9:15pm Eastern. These are dedicated to test scheduling and college admissions issues, and should be helpful to first-time parents of college-bound kids. To "attend", call 218-844-0850 x 429601 or email us at