PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 200 | SAT prep gone bad

A typical conversation with a teen about SAT preparation. It doesn't end well.

Show Notes:

In this week's podcast, I share a typical conversation that I have with teenagers regarding their preparation for the SAT or ACT.

Let's just say it doesn't go all that well.

If you have a child who's in charge (or wants to be in charge) of their own SAT study plan, please give this episode a listen.

Show Transcript:

Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. In today's episode, I want to share an all too common conversation that I have with teenagers. With respect to preparing for the SAT. And when I say SAT, I mean SAT or act. For the sake of brevity, I won't keep repeating them both. The SAT and the act are, for all intents and purposes, the same thing.

There are differences, of course, but I'm not going to address those nuances right now. This representative student that I'm going to reference here is a junior and as a prep dweller, he was well aware last spring that it would be a smart idea to study for the SAT over the summer before his junior year started so that he didn't have to worry about it during a very challenging academic year.

So just to review, in a large majority of cases, the best strategy is and was to study for the SAT intent. Lee during the month of August before junior year and then take a real SAT test at the end of August with a back up test in October. If done right, the student would have studied hard. The second half of the summer take in the August and or October SAT and never look back.

Unfortunately, as happens, most of the time, this is not what happens. And here's roughly speaking, what the conversation was like. I've taken some liberties for the sake of ease of understanding. So I asked the student on the phone, How did your August set go? And he responds, Oh, not bad. I say, Well, what's not bad? What did you get on it?

I got an 11 5600 math and 550 verbal. I said, okay, how much had you prepared for it? And he responded, Not as much as I had hoped. Probably about a week before the test, I started looking at some practice questions. I said, Oh, okay. I thought the plan was to really buckle down with studying in August to really get ready for it.

What happened? He said, Yeah, I don't know what happened. I didn't have a lot of time. I wasn't able to get around to it. And I said, okay, well, that's too bad because now you're six weeks into junior year and I suspect that you don't have a lot of free time to study. And he said, Yeah, I'm really busy right now.

It's it's been hard to find time. I said, I thought you also planned on taking the October S.A.T.. Did you take that one? What happened with that one? He said, Oh, yeah, I skipped that one because I had a family event I didn't want to miss, so I skipped it. I'm registered for the December test. I said, Okay, good.

What's the plan to prepare for that one? He said, I think I'm going to do Khan Academy. And I said, Okay, well, what does that mean exactly? He said, I'm going to use Khan Academy to study for the December S.A.T.. And I said, okay, I got that part. I'm still curious about the plan specifically. He said, I'm not really sure what you mean.

I said, I mean, how do you plan to study how many hours a week? What days of the week? What time of day? When do you plan on taking a few full length practice tests? And he responded, I'm not sure. And I said, Well, somehow I'm getting the impression that if I hung up the phone right now that this plan is not going to work out.

If you don't get very specific about times and days for when you will be studying exclusively for the S.A.T., my guess is that it's just not going to get done. So let's see if we can get more specific. The test is in five weeks. So realistically, when can you carve out time to study for the S.A.T.? And I mean, really study 100% commitment and focus, not while multitasking.

And he said, I would realistically say Saturday mornings I could try to find some time. I said, okay, Saturday mornings it is. How long can you commit to a study session? He said, I don't know, probably an hour or two. I said, All right, let's call it an hour and a half. Every Saturday morning from now until the December test.

You realize that's only five sessions, right? And he said, Oh, yeah, I guess. And then I said, What is your target score on the SAT? What do you hope to get? And he said, Oh, I'd be good with something in the 1400s. I said, Oh, the 1400s. Okay. Do you have any idea how hard it is to improve your SAT score by 250 or more points in just a few Saturdays?

And he said, Not really. I said, My guess is that it's going to take more than one and a half hours of Khan Academy studying for the next five SATs to get a 250 point improvement. He said, Oh, really? You think so? My sister got a 1430 and a lot of her friends did too. And I said, okay, that's great for them, but what does that have to do with you?

And he said, I guess I just assumed I do about the same as my sister and her friends. And I said, Well, that may be true, but I wouldn't bank on that as a study plan. He said, Yeah, I guess not. Well, what do you think I should do, Mr. Black? And I said, The best thing you could have done was study over the summer so we wouldn't be having this conversation.

I'd love for you to be done by now, since that's no longer an option. I want you to think long and hard about how much you actually care about your SAT score. I know other students who get up at 5 a.m. before school every day or five days a week to study for the SAT for an hour. I know students who grind every weekend for three or 4 hours on SAT study.

I have students who I help coordinate full length practice Saturdays leading up to the real thing so they get familiar with taking a three hour test. These are students who are very motivated and they want to do very well. Would you say you fall into this category? And he responded, I thought the SAT was optional anyway. And I said, Well, yes, By and large, submitting a test score is optional, but it certainly behooves you to score well enough so that you could submit your score no matter what the colleges say.

It doesn't look great when you submit an application with no score. Technically, you don't have to. At many schools, but then you're leaving it up to the imagination of the admissions officer. And I would not assume that they're going to give you the benefit of the doubt. What kinds of colleges are you thinking about? And he responded, I don't know.

Probably places like NYU and Boston University and UVA and Georgetown and Tulane. And I said, all right, those are some pretty competitive colleges. You are really going to need to improve your S.A.T. score to be anywhere on the radar of any of those colleges. And that's just to get past the very first screen. And he said, Oh, really?

I didn't know that. I had a friend of a friend of a friend who said those schools weren't that hard to get into. And I said, All right, I would suggest that you don't take that advice particularly seriously. It's actually very challenging to get into all of those schools. And dare I say, impossible without an S.A.T. or A.C.T. score, unless you're one of the chosen few.

You're a recruited athlete. Your parents donated $40 million to put a new wing on the university, or you fit into one of the other few institutional priorities that are floating around out there. So he said, Oh, well, what do I do? And I said, The first thing you have to do is make a decision. Do you want to step in the arena and compete against all the other guys from across the country and the world, for that matter, who would give their left arm to get into any of the colleges on your list?

Or are you going to halfheartedly try to do some kind of academy on the weekends when you get a chance? Because the path that you're on right now will not make you a competitive candidate for selective colleges? Not that there's anything wrong with that, but let's get on the same page here and let's call it for what it is.

I don't want you to be surprised next year when you're applying to colleges and you see what the competition is like out there and you freak out. So why don't you think about it? We can talk again next week and you can let me know where you want to take this. We can shut it all down and you can go to community college.

There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes sense for a lot of students. We can shoot for a mid-tier, selective college, which would require you to step up your game a bit, but maybe not upend your entire life. Or you can swing for the fences and compete with others in your demographic category, in which case, your plan better get a lot more detailed.

Like right away. We can also talk about international colleges, military trade, schools. I think everything should be on the table. And he responded, finally. Okay, Mr. Black. Thanks for the help. I guess I have a lot of thinking to do. We'll talk next week. And that was it. Now, that type of back and forth describes a lot of conversations I have with both male and female students in 10th and 11th grade.

Most have no idea what they're up against. Most have no idea how to set a goal and create daily, weekly, monthly tasks to achieve it. Most have no idea why they're even going down this road to begin with. If I had to guess, I would say 75% of male teenagers who I deal with would fall into this category.

Another 10% would be completely checked out, not even trying. And then the final 15% would be on the ball, tracking hard up for the challenge. They understand what's going on and they're making concerted efforts to reach their goals. If you have a teenage son, where do you think he would fall in this continuum now? Female teenagers are different.

I'm going to address them in an upcoming episode. There's significant variability there. We need to educate our teenagers earlier on what lies ahead, not to put some kind of undue pressure on them, but to make sure that they are seeing the world in a clear eyed way and not living in a fantasy world of video games and ESPN and house of highlights and phone scrolling and video editing.

Because left to their own devices, literally and figuratively, they have no idea what it takes these days to be competitive in any arena. High School. College. Community College. Trade schools. Military. Self-employment. We need to get to them earlier so they can decide which way they want to go. Prep academy is one way to give them the blueprint for success, no matter which path they choose.

Scheduling a consulting call with me is another way to make sure your child has a clue what lies ahead before it's too late. Teens are distracted more and more every day. Smartphones and social media have captured nearly every spare second of their attention outside of school. We need to break the spell and make sure they know what they're up against.

That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies, Online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships.

Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in prep for the academy, which is great. If you don't yet, please consider enrolling them. Registration is only open during freshman or sophomore year. After that, we no longer accept new students. So if you have a freshman or sophomore in high school and you like what you're hearing in these podcasts and you like to get more content like this, tailored specifically for your child, for their specific grade and with their specific goals in mind.

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Podcast Host:

PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.

Learn More About PrepWell:

Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.

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