Review – SAT Preparation in 28 Days by Angie Record, Ph.D.

SAT Preparation in 28 Days is subtitled “A Companion to The Official SAT Study Guide,” and should be purchased with the version of the Blue Book with the DVD. It is meant to guide students on a four week course of study.

The guide is only 35 pages long, and as such, it contains minimal SAT strategy and illustrative questions. no problem – but do you get what you pay for?

Organization

Before You Begin – take a diagnostic test

Weeks 1-4: Each week begins with a list of just over 100 vocabulary words and definitions, followed by a handful of SAT strategies and concepts.

There is a short list of vocabulary roots.

Finally, there is a page on timing the SAT, and a “syllabus” advising you to study one page of the guide each day.

Pros

The guide is very brief, and the course only lasts four weeks. That’s very short, but a student might only have four weeks to prepare.

The language is easy to understand, and the author gets right to the point in every case.

The concepts and strategies all relate to questions found on the SAT, and most of the vocabulary words are commonly found on the test.

Cons

There is not sufficient material to optimally prepare a student for a test as involved as the SAT. Four weeks is also insufficient, so this guide is only appropriate for students who lack the time to study more.

There are a few words that I’ve never seen on an SAT (I’ve seen hundreds of SATs). No biggie – I’m talking about 4 or 5 out of over 400. More important, many of the most commonly used words are absent. Learning the words in this guide will help, but there are better vocabulary guides. Finally, only words and definitions are offered – no strategies or helpful mnemonics.

Some of the advice is so minimal that it is hard to understand, and other advice is plain wrong. For example, the tiny paragraph headlined “Avoid Predictable Traps” says to eliminate wrong answers first (which isn’t always the best approach), and mentions nothing about traps! Furthermore, it goes on to advise you to guess only if you can eliminate all but two answer choices, which is just plain wrong (see here).

Here is an excerpt from the guide:

Follow the Five Paragraph Rule

Write five paragraphs per essay. Write five sentences per paragraph. The five paragraph rule applies EXCEPT that there is not enough time to generate a cohesive, five paragraph essay. Aim for four (4) paragraphs instead.”

Is that telling you to write a four- or five-paragraph essay? Did the author mean to say “EXCEPT when there is not enough time”? Even if that is so, there is no advice on how to decide that.

Although several useful techniques are presented, some of them have no accompanying examples, or even pointers to which questions in the Blue Book apply. Many of the most effective (and well known) SAT strategies aren’t here; how can any SAT math guide omit plugging in?

Overview

Although there are a few errors in this book, they aren’t overwhelming. Still, the guide is nowhere near comprehensive. Its greatest weakness is also its biggest selling point – this is a guide for someone who doesn’t have much time to prepare for the SAT, and is looking for a short and sweet approach.

Early in this article, I asked whether this guide is worth the money. Recently, I have reviewed several books that are over 500 pages in length, and they typically go for around $13 on Amazon. SAT Preparation in 28 Days costs $9.99 – that’s too much (there is very little information in this book). The Kindle edition isn’t much of a bargain at $7.99. This isn’t necessarily the author’s fault; it may be impossible to offer a cheaper book and recoup publishing and distribution costs (and Amazon’s cut). Still, most people want value for their buck. However, the ebook is currently being offered for FREE to Amazon Prime members. You can’t go wrong with that (just ignore the guessing advice).

Buy the paperback here

Kindle ebook

Obama’s Proposal Tying Financial Aid to Tuition Rates

In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama proposed withholding federal aid to colleges that continue to raise tuition.

English: President Barack Obama gives his Stat...

Some facts: 1) Tuition (and other college costs) have been rising, making college less affordable and less accessible to poor families. 2) In recent years, states have been pulling aid from colleges. 3) To some extent, the loss of state aid has been compensated by increased federal aid, although much of that has been in the form of loans.

What that means is that poorer students are seeking alternatives to college, and those who do attend will find themselves saddled with a pile of debt.

Education is our future. Obama is certainly right to try to make college more affordable. And his proposal has “teeth” – that is, it would put tremendous pressure on colleges to rein in costs.

But is it misguided and simplistic?

If colleges have been hiking tuition to compensate for losing state aid, it isn’t right to point the accusatory finger at them. I fear that withholding federal aid will only exacerbate the problem. Some colleges will not be able to afford to teach need-worthy students. Their student bodies will shrink, and that could lead to bankruptcy.

It’s also hard to blame the states; in this economy, their income has shrunk, and they have cut their budgets out of necessity. One could say that decreasing funding for higher education is shortsighted; they would reply that it’s a matter of survival.

The simple fact is that, during an economic downturn, people and institutions suffer. The best way to get education back on the right track is to right the economy. Fortunately, that seems to happening, if shakily and slowly.

It seems to me that tying federal aid directly to tuition rates is indeed simplistic. State aid needs to be factored into the formula. Perhaps private endowments could be included as well; they also decrease during a recession. Maybe the federal government could offer incentives to states for maintaining college aid.

What do you think?

Review – Peterson’s Master The SAT

The 2012 edition of Master The SAT is 848 pages long, and comes with a CD.

This is Peterson’s entry in the “one book covers everything” market; Peterson’s also sells more specialized SAT guides.

Organization

Introduction – about the book, study tips

SAT Basics – content, scores, how to study

Diagnostic Test with answers, explanations, and general advice on how to use results

Strategies arranged by section and question type (includes comprehensive grammar and math review)

5 Practice Tests

Appendix: Guide for Parents

Included CD (see below)

Pros

The guide is loaded with instructional material. Where other books may provide one, or maybe two ways to solve a math problem, Master The SAT offers three. The same goes for illustrative examples – e.g. there are six run-on sentences explained.

The writing style is serious and easy to understand.

The book is well organized, so it’s easy to find a topic.

The example questions and those in the practice tests are in the same format as those found on the SAT.

Nine practice tests are offered – that’s a lot.

Cons

There is no version sold without the CD, so you’ll pay more for this guide than others of its kind. Furthermore, the CD is mostly a gimmick. When you run it, a screen appears with several choices: One offers 3 practice tests, but it’s actually a link to the Peterson’s website where you can enter an authorization code and take the tests. Two other choices (college descriptions and Word Success) allow you to download pdf files. The Vocab link just takes you to an iTunes app. Finally, the “Essay Edge” button takes you to a website where you have to pay between $29.95 and $93.95 for their services. All the while, you never leave the initial screen.

Too much information! Some students may like the plethora of techniques that are offered, but I’m sure that most will find it overwhelming. Even hard-working students will forget most of the techniques soon after reading them.

The practice SATs differ from the real thing. As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, this is true of all non-College Board practice tests, but the Peterson’s tests are different in more obvious ways. For example, the proportion of some math concepts on each section is way off. For another, the format differs from that of the real SAT – e.g. Improving Sentences where there should be Identifying Sentence Errors.

I certainly didn’t read every question carefully, but I was able to find errors in some of the math questions. There were also Sentence Completions for which multiple answers would work. There is a shortage of trap answers on all of the tests.

The explanations of the answers are woefully inadequate. This surprised me, since so many strategies were given in the instructional sections.

Alternative math strategies, such as plugging in, are only briefly mentioned, and often overlooked in the solutions. That’s inexcusable.

Overview

If you visit your local bookstore or library, or browse online for SAT guides, you’ll find the sheer number of titles to be overwhelming. Even if you narrow your search down to all-in-one SAT books that include practice tests, there are many choices.

Many years ago, these books differed greatly in quality. Now, the gap has narrowed. However, I can only recommend this book to students who are shopping for volume – as I said, there’s a ton of information, and many practice tests here. But other books will be easier to learn from, and have better practice tests with vastly superior explanations.

This guide doesn’t sell very well on Amazon (there are no reviews there either), and it’s not hard to see why.

Buy it here.

SAT Sentence Completions – Working with Positive and Negative Words

On Sentence Completions, you should come up with your own answer before you look at the choices. Once you’ve done that, if you can pick out a printed answer that matches your answer, then you’re done.

But sometimes, it isn’t so easy to anticipate a specific answer; at best you have a general idea of what the word(s) should mean.

Q. Although the compromise didn’t entirely please either party, it represented a —- in the history of the small nation.

You can’t tell exactly what will go in the blank. It could be something like “event worth celebrating,” “milestone,” or even just “good thing.” But you do know that the answer will be something positive, so you can eliminate negative answers.

Negative Positive-Picture

Some SAT teachers recommend classifying answers as positive, negative, or neutral. I don’t think it’s helpful to classify answers as neutral, for several reasons. For one thing, once you’re dealing with neutral words, you’ve usually left the realm of what I call “plus/minus questions,” and there are better techniques to use. For another, it can be hard to distinguish between neutral and other words. Finally, a word can change its assignation in context:

Q. Kim was elated when she —- the interview.

Of course, such as sentence would never be found on the SAT, because there is no effective way to tell what the answer might be. Perhaps Kim was happy that she bombed the interview, because she hated the job, although her mother was pushing her toward it. But even if she did want the job, perhaps she was elated when she finished it. “Finished” is a neutral-sounding word, but it works here.

One thing to watch for – don’t assume your answer has to be positive or negative because it usually is in real life. Unless there are specific words in the sentence that point to an answer being positive or negative, you could get in trouble.

Q. The director searched far and wide for an actress who was —- enough to play the lead role.

Perhaps the lead role was that of an alien, and the director was looking for an ugly actress.

The plus/minus technique can be particularly helpful on two-blank questions.

Q. Even though the author’s writing style was annoyingly —-, I enjoyed the novel because the plot was —-.

Again, it’s hard to anticipate exactly what the answer words are, but you know you’re looking for a negative followed by a positive (-,+).

Watch out for the “flip”:

Q. The speaker —- to deliver an effective speech because he —- issues that were relevant to the mostly Hispanic audience.

Most students tend to think of positive words first, and we know that the SAT is very politica

lly correct. So it’s natural to anticipate something like “was able” for the first blank, and “talked about” for the second. That’s a (+,+), but two negatives would work here too: “The speaker failed to deliver an effective speech because he neglected issues that were relevant to the mostly Hispanic audience.” Note that there’s nothing politically incorrect about that sentence, since it’s the speaker who failed and not the audience.

The best case scenario is that you notice in advance that there are two possible combinations. But if you don’t, and you can’t find an answer that fits, see if switching both words would make sense.

Finally, on hard questions, watch out for words with more than one definition. Those are always tricky, but bear in mind that one definition may be positive, and the other negative.

Q. The arms manufacturing company was glad to have the —- of the government.

The wanted answer here is “sanction,” which can mean either “penalty” or “approval.”

There is no easy way to spot every word with multiple definitions, but be wary of words that seem inappropriate to the topic, or seem to be used as the wrong part of speech (e.g. “table” as a verb means to postpone).

The plus/minus technique can also be helpful when you don’t know a word or two. You can use it to eliminate wrong answers before taking a guess.

Review – Cracking the SAT from The Princeton Review

The first edition of The Princeton Review’s Cracking series, published in 1986, was the first guide ever to offer strategies that reflected a true understanding of the SAT. Many of those strategies were developed within the company (particularly by Adam Robinson).

At the time of its publication, Cracking the System: The SAT (as it was then titled) was hands down the best SAT prep guide on the market.

Can the same be said for the 2012 edition of Cracking the SAT? Is it worth spending the extra money for the version that comes with a DVD? Read on to find the answers to these questions.

Both editions are 768 pages, and include 4 practice tests. In addition, book owners can access additional practice tests at The Princeton Review Website (1 test if you have the plain edition; 4 tests if you have the DVD edition). The cover says “by Adam Robinson and John Katzman,” but “the Staff of The Princeton Review” are added on the title page.

Organization

Introduction – basic principles

Strategies, background material, and sample questions arranged by section

Taking the SAT – more tips

Answer Key to Drills (with explanations)

4 complete practice tests with answers and explanations

I did not have the DVD, but reviews on Amazon suggest that it merely rehashes material that’s already in the book. You can buy it if you like studying with a computer, and you’ll also have access to 3 extra tests on The Princeton Review website.

Pros

The review section is very thorough, and the emphasis is on techniques. The explanations for many math concepts are simpler than those found in other books. There is also plenty of advice about when and how to use your calculator.

Strategies for Sentence Completions and Critical Reading aren’t as “one size fits all” as those found in other popular guides. When appropriate, different strategies are offered for different types of questions (e.g. inference questions).

The language is straightforward and easy to understand. It is not irreverent, but it is incisive and very appropriate for teenagers.

Practice tests are included, and they are reasonably close to actual SATs. They even include 10 full sections, whereas many other practice tests omit a section in lieu of the Experimental Section.

The Amazon price for the edition without the DVD is $13.39, which is a bargain for a book this size.

Cons

Where’s the beef? In 26 years, there have been very few new techniques added, and most of them were necessitated by changes in the SAT (e.g. calculator hints or grid-in tips).

There is a lot of emphasis on the Joe Bloggs technique here (if you’re unfamiliar with Joe Bloggs, see here). That’s not surprising, given that this is the technique for which P.R. is best known, but it is not nearly as effective as it used to be.

The practice tests differ from the real SAT in several ways. As I’ve written before, this is true of practice tests in all of the commercial prep books; an author or two can’t hope to duplicate the complex process that is used to develop the actual SAT.

The reliance on the Joe Bloggs concept spills over into the practice tests; there is too high a proportion of trap answers here. Once students have learned to avoid traps, they will tend to find parts of these exams too easy.

Errors, errors! I didn’t read every question carefully, yet I still noticed a lot of mistakes, considering that this book was written by the biggest SAT prep company of all. Note that a few errors are described in the reviews at Amazon.

Overview

In my opinion, The Princeton Review has rested on its laurels with this book, and what was once the leader of the pack is now lost in the pack. I’m not saying this is a bad book, but there is nothing to recommend it over the dozen or more others of its ilk.

An idea cannot be copyrighted, and once a technique is published in one book, there is nothing to prevent authors of other books from co-opting it. Presently, there is a glut of SAT prep books on the market, and authors may be reluctant to reveal new techniques for this reason. Also, Robinson left the company years ago.

What is interesting is that any new techniques employed by large teaching companies such as The Princeton Review are bound to become common knowledge, while those taught by small companies could remain proprietary for years to come.

Still, everything you need to know for the SAT is here in this book, and you might want it for the practice tests. These tests will be particularly helpful in training you to avoid traps, as long as you keep in mind that there are too many of them here.

If you insist on studying with a single book, I would recommend Barron’s SAT over this one by a nose; it has fewer errors. Bear in mind that I haven’t read every book on the market (I’m working on it).

If you’re willing to work hard, you should opt for well-written guides that specialize in Math or Verbal skills. I’ve already recommended The PWN the SAT Math guide; I’ve heard of a Verbal guide or two, but I haven’t read them yet. You can still buy one of the big books for extra material and/or practice tests.

The Books are available here:

Book Only

Book With DVD

Should We Succumb to Students’ Aversion to the Printed Word?

Last week, Apple launched its iBooks 2 software. Apple was not the first company to create software for the development of multimedia etextbooks, but as usual, they created the biggest buzz. Naturally, their motives aren’t entirely altruistic; Apple wants a big piece of the etextbooks pie (now, there’s a metaphor that works overtime).

English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Appl...

I have seen demonstrations of multimedia etexts, and they are very impressive. Embedded photos can be quickly expanded to fill the page of your monitor or iPad; a flick of your fingers returns them to normal size. Three-dimensional images can be rotated in a similar fashion. You can watch videos also, and of course, audio is included. Note taking and highlighting are also easy to do.

There is no doubt in my mind that etextbooks are the way of the future. They simply amount to a better way of transmitting information than the old, stodgy paper books. And who wouldn’t rather carry a single iPad than a heavy load of textbooks?

Still, something gnaws at me. To hear the majority of my students tell it, the disappearance of printed text as we know it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Who needs novels? – we have movies. Biographies? – watch a documentary. Who wants to read when you can watch a screen?

Educators have been lamenting the decrease in reading by our youngsters since long before Apple was formed. I tell my students that I understand the phenomenon. It used to be that kids didn’t have much to do after the sun went down. Once they tired of drawing or playing checkers, reading a good book was their most entertaining option. But then radio was invented, and that took up a share of their time. Television was a big one. Now there are computers, video games, smart phones, etc., and they are all easy and fun. Who has the time to read a book? Only geeky bookworms seem to do very much of it.

However, practice does makes perfect, and only students who read regularly tend to make good readers. Many of my students have told me that they don’t want to read my blog because it’s all text (hey – what about those SpongeBob pictures?). Even my own son said he’d prefer video lessons, or at least animations.

I don’t want to sound old fashioned, and I’m certainly not anti-technology. But I believe that many animated or video lessons are inefficient. They have their place, when visual imagery is paramount. But students are forced to go at the pace of the video, and few of them will bother to rewind even if they should. Learning is very passive when one watches an animation; text is sometimes more effective, and writing material down for one’s self can be best of all. Yes, students like on-screen learning because it’s interesting, but they also like it because it lets them be lazy.

Some educators say “if technology makes learning fun, go with it, because students will use it more.” That’s certainly true, but I think a compromise is called for. Printed text is not going to disappear anytime soon, and if our students don’t have a facility with it, we’re going to be in big trouble. Electronic devices are fine, but educators should make sure that they encourage students to read plenty of printed text, whether on paper or screens.

That’s not an Earth-shattering proposal, but students’ reluctance to read (and write) is disturbing. We educators need to find ways to make reading enjoyable for our students.

English: A 1st generation Apple iPad showing i...

Fancy electronics alone won’t do that. We must find ways to make content compelling to today’s students. We need to find stories that reach today’s youth personally. Also, students might prefer short stories or novellas to full-length novels – that’s fine. As for textbooks, perhaps their writing style needs some spicing up. Old-school teachers might be horrified at the thought, but again, it’s worth it if it gets the kids to read more.

Now, I’m not saying that we should “de-professionalize” every textbook. What I am saying is that we need to find alternative strategies to reach students who are reluctant to read much. To be sure, we won’t succeed with every student. But such efforts could be implemented at all grade levels from elementary to high school. If we can succeed at rescuing a few percent of the non-readers in each grade, we’ll have many more competent readers and writers and more of them will go on to college.

We cannot let our children abandon the printed word. If we do, we abandon them.

Review – SAT DeMystified

There’s no mystery here – DON’T BUY THIS BOOK.

SAT DeMystified, by Alexandra Mayzler and Joseph Daniele, is published by McGraw Hill. McGraw Hill also publishes the highly regarded SAT prep book, so I was surprised at how poor the current offering is.

SAT DeMystified was published in August 2011, and is part of a series of DeMystified titles which include Robotics DeMystified and Home Networking DeMystified.

SAT DeMystified has 583 pages, but those pages aren’t as large as those found in the major prep books. Still, there’s a lot of material here; it is meant to provide a full course.

Organization

Introduction – about the book, about the SAT

Overview of content, strategies, and drill for each section, organized by question type (Verbal sections) or topic (Math)

3 practice tests

Pros

The book does tell you what material is on the SAT (but so do all of the other prep books). There are many useful strategies here (but read on).

3 practice tests are included.

The writing is serious and easy to understand.

The book is well organized, so it is easy to look up topics.

Cons

Many of the strategies are useless; some will even hurt students’ performance. For example, the authors abandon tried-and-true strategies for Sentence Completions and recommend a 6-step process instead:

Read, Find the definition, Positive/negative/neutral, Fill in the blank, Eliminate, Plug it in.

Now, there is a lot of good advice there, but some of it is only applicable to certain questions. Do the authors really think that students should memorize these 6 steps and apply them meticulously to every question? Furthermore, do the authors really believe that most students will even try? Sometimes you can read the sentence, think “the answer should mean ‘improve,'” choose “progress,” and you’re done.

I’ll give one other example. The most useful technique for algebra, plugging in, is included. However, it isn’t demonstrated separately; it is only given as the solution to certain questions. Furthermore, students aren’t told when to use it, and no instructions are given. Some values are copied from the question, and some are plugged in, but you’re not even told which is which – you have to figure it out. I’ve taught this technique to many students for many years, and I can tell you that very few will pick it up from this book.

Many excellent techniques that are found in other prep books are absent here.

The practice questions often don’t resemble the real ones, and there are quite a few errors.

Amazingly, no explanations are given for either the drills or practice tests (there are only answer keys).

Overview

Unfortunately, many students will buy this book because it looks slick on the outside.

SAT prep guides have come a long way in the past twenty years; several excellent ones are now available. There is simply no excuse for such an awful book as this one.

I could go on about what else is wrong with this book, but you get the idea. Run away!