From the Superintendent's Corner
Making Sense of College Prep Courses
If your child is in middle school or entering high school, it won’t be long before your mailbox regularly holds offers to enroll in a college testing prep course. Getting that perfect score on the all-important SAT can be within your child’s reach, they claim, with a little help from their experienced tutors and coaches.
Should you toss these offers, put them aside for later, or start figuring out how to fit a course in your son or daughter’s busy schedule? The answer depends on several factors, and the decision will not be the same for everyone.
First, what kind of student is your child? Is he or she at the top of the class and has been having dreams of attending an Ivy League school all his life? Or is your child an average student who earns mostly B’s, with the occasional A or C, and plans to attend a good, competitive college in which he or she fits comfortably in their freshman class profile?
The first college test your child will likely take is the PSAT, which is given in eleventh grade. Many high schools give tenth graders the opportunity to take a practice PSAT. We would suggest you strongly advise your student to take advantage of this practice test. Don’t be swayed by arguments that they can take a practice test from a book at home. There’s a difference between the experiences, and it is helpful to have the realistic experience of a true test situation.
Until you get that test score back, we wouldn’t suggest you even consider starting any test preparation course. The best advice we can give college-minded students starting high school is to take the most challenging course load they feel they can handle and to do their best to keep their grades high, and to make reading a daily pleasure.
There is really no secret to scoring high on the SATs. Students do it every year. Are these the students who took the most preparatory courses and crammed for the tests the hardest? Usually, no. The formula is simple. The students who attain high grades throughout school, who take learning seriously, and—very important—who read books enthusiastically will be the students with the highest SAT grades. When was the last time you heard about a C student acing the SATs?
That said, if your child is a good student and strongly desires to attend a school that has a specific SAT score as a requirement for admission and is falling short of that magic number, it is perfectly reasonable to enroll in an SAT prep course or to arrange for sessions with a private tutor. Many students have reported increases in scores after using these tools. It may also be that your child is very strong in math or English but weaker in the other subject and a course geared to improving the weaker score would be worth the cost and effort.
Keep in mind that students have several chances to take the SATs, and the highest scores in each category are the ones that count. Unless your child has a history of difficulties in testing situations, we suggest you see how he or she scores on their first try before committing a lot of time to a prep course. Before you join those signing up for prep courses, decide if your child actually needs to improve his score. A perfect SAT score will not open the Ivy League doors if your child doesn’t have the straight A grades to back it up. Even the combination of both is no guarantee of admission.
Help your child to decide the right way to prepare for their SATs, and remember that there are many, many colleges to choose from.#
Dr. Hankin is superintendent of Syosset Central School District.