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How to Help Your Public School Kid Study for the SAT and Other Confessions of a Bobcat Mother

Mr. D. anticipating the day he gets to study the blue book

This post is not about food or architecture. I hope you’ll forgive me, but some of my friends have asked for this information, so I thought I would just post it here. This post is about the SAT test and how Miss G. studied for it. Yes, my daughter has accused me of being a tiger mother, but truly I’m not – heck, I let her drop out of piano lessons in fourth grade….no tiger mother in her right mind would let that happen. I consider myself, more of ……a …..bobcat mother.  I like to think of bobcat mothers as less intense than tiger mothers, but granted, still a little intense, but way more flexible and way more fun. Bobcat mothers want their children to get very best grades within that particular child’s capacity. Bobcat mothers allow sleepovers. Bobcat mothers let their children play the trombone. Bobcat mothers never do their child’s science projects or write their term papers. Bobcat mothers try to realize they are not raising the next Serena Williams or Kobe Bryant, so school does come before sports. Bobcat mothers don’t call their children appallingly mean names. Okay, I confess, bobcat mothers have their children do singapore math. Bobcat mothers have totally high expectations – yes, but, don’t use an iron fist in enforcing those expectations. Bobcat mothers hug.

Enough of that digression,  I believe the SAT is worth studying for so your child has the most options available to them for their education. Also, if they are interested in a private regional school (for instance, here in Washington State schools such as Seattle Pacific, Whitworth, Gonzaga…) a lot of merit money is given out for the combination of a high GPA and high SAT scores.

For those of you new to this stressful phase of American parenthood, the SAT is now divided into three parts; critical reading, math and writing. Each part is worth up to 800 points for a grand total of 2400. The average kid in 2011 scored 497 on critical reading, 514 on math and 489 in writing for a grand total of 1500. You can go to the data section of the college board website to find all this out and more. The SAT is offered seven times a year; January, March (alternating with April), May, June, October, November and December. Most kids take it in the spring of their junior year and again in the fall of their senior year, if needed. It is recommended not to take the SAT more than three times.

College guidebooks, as well as the individual college websites also list the SAT score range of the middle 50% of the students admitted. This means 25% scored below this range and 25% scored above.  Sometimes, the guidebooks will just list the average of the critical reading and math sections and leave out the writing  sections.

For example, at Davidson College, a fabulous liberal arts college in North Carolina,  the middle 50% scored the following:

  • Critical Reading: 640-740
  • Math: 650-750
  • Writing: 640-730

So, this means the middle 50% scored 1930-2220 overall or 1290-1490 for just critical reading/ math. Miss G. really wanted to get in a school like Davidson, so she wanted her SAT scores to be in the 2000-2100 range.

Many selective schools also require or encourage the applicant to take 2 or 3 SAT subject tests (aka SAT II). The SAT subject tests are just that – tests in a particular subject, such as biology, chemistry, literature, french. There are 20 subjects to choose from. Everything I have read says to take the SAT subject test close to when you take the class in that particular subject, i.e. if your student does well in AP chemistry as a sophomore , have them take the Chemistry subject test in May or June of the same year.

Many private schools have SAT prep as part of their curriculum. Unfortunately, most public schools, including ours, don’t. I would have loved to hire a Princeton Review tutor, but unfortunately it did not fit into our budget. So, the only option was for me to become the SAT tutor.

Knowing Miss G. had and intense junior year in front of her, I though it best to start studying in August of her rising junior year. Two rising seniors, Kaia and Colton, joined us- Kaia was going to be taking the test for the first (and last) time in October and Colton just needed to raise his score by a hair to get into the state school he wanted. Having a study group made us all more accountable and was a very good thing. We met weekly on a Saturday or Sunday for 2 to 4 hours depending on what we were doing that day.

The indispensable sources I used for the study group were the College Board’s  The Official Sat Study Guide, often referred to as the “blue book” and Gruber’s Complete SAT Math Workbook. Each study group kid should definately have their own blue book. The blue book contains 10 practice tests created by the same people who make the test. Other book’s I used for SAT strategy were The Princeton Review Cracking the SAT and Up your Score – the Underground Guide to the SAT. However, I think you can get some of the same information online with College Confidential’s Silverturtle’s Guide to SAT and Admission Success, College Confidential’s Xiggi’s SAT Prep AdviceCollege Confidential’s SAT Prep FAQ, PWN the SAT,  and more specifically for SAT math, Eric the Red. I found the spark notes site after we were done prepping, but it looks like it has some good stuff, too. Also, the Khan Academy has video explanations of the answers to the Blue Book. Vocabulary is a very important  part of the SAT. I compiled a list for the study group which they needed to study on their own time. I also found this list of the 1000 most common SAT words from somewhere….. Miss G. was not good at all at studying the vocublary list, but I think being a voracious reader saved her hide. Her brother, on the other hand is an apathetic reader, so I plan on supplementing him with Direct Hits core vocabulary of the SAT volumes 1 & 2. So, this is approximately what we did to study for the SAT:

Architect Mom’s SAT Study Plan:

  • Week 1 (August): I had the kids take a full test (test 1), excluding the essay, out of the blue book to  guage where everyone was at.
  • Week 2 (August):  reviewed critical reading strategies (out of princeton review, but could have been silverturtle or xiggi), took critical reading test sections from blue book test 2.
  • Week 3 (August): reviewed critical reading strategies, took critical reading test sections from blue book test 3.
  • Week 4 (August):  reviewed writing strategies, took writing test sections from blue book test 2.
  • Week 5 (September): reviewed writing/ essay stategies, took writing test sections from blue book test 3 & did essay section from test 3.
  • Week 6 (September): reviewed math strategies & started taking diagnostic tests out of the Gruber book. Homework to finish all of diagnostics at home, review answers & have questions for the next week.
  • Week 7 (September): reviewed math strategies, took math section tests from blue book test  2.
  • Week 8 (September): reviewed math strategies, took math section tests from blue book test 3.
  • Week 9 (October): took full blue book test 4.

*****Break here****Seniors took their October SAT (Kaia did so well she got a very nice scholarship to a very nice private University in Seattle and Colton got into his dream state school), Miss G. took her junior year PSAT. After this point, it is just Miss G’s study group.

  • Week 10 (October): took half of blue book test 5 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 11 (October): took other half of blue book test 5 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 12 (November):  took half of blue book test 6 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 13 (November): took other half of blue book test 6 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 14 (November): took half of blue book test 7 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 15 (November): took other half of blue book test 7 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 16 (December): took half of blue book test 8 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 17 (December ): took other half of blue book test 8 (no essay), did corrections
  • Week 18 (December): took full blue book test 10

*****Break here******   took January SAT test. Chose to take a January SAT because a lot of studying had already been done & for $18 the college board offers the question-and answer service for this test date. The only other times the service is available are May and October. The question-and-answer service can help you assess how you did and what you did wrong….. below is from the college board website:

The Question-and-Answer Service is available, and with it, you’ll get:

  • A booklet copy of the SAT questions and a report including your answers for the specific testing administration
  • The correct answers and additional scoring instructions
  • Information about the type of test questions and levels of difficulty of the questions


  • January SAT: Miss G. scored in 90th percentile, weakest area math, and although a really good score still a little low for her goal schools.
  • February-April: took math sections of blue book test 9, studied more Grubers
  • May SAT: scored the exact same in critical reading, math & 10 points lower in writing. Miss G. really wants her go to her goal school, so wants to take it again in October. She is still willing to study. The issue seems to be getting through all of the math questions. With unlimited time, Miss G. can get all of the math questions right, but with a time limit she doesn’t get to the last 5 or 6 problems.
  • June SAT subjects tests: takes Biology E, Literature, Math 1 (one of the schools required a SAT subject test in math). Miss G. did not really study for these….she had just finished AP Biology….she did very well in the biology e &  literature tests.(Math 1 score was not stellar so only submitted it to the school that required it)
  • July – August: we look into getting a SAT math tutor, since that is the weakness in her score, and it doesn’t pan out. Takes portions of blue book test 9 &10 & the full test sample available on the college board website throughout the summer. Pretty lax summer by tiger bobcat mother standards.
  • October SAT (senior year): Third time is the charm. She gets through all of the math questions and raises her score 165 points to the 97th percentile. I think all that prior studying along with the familiarity with the test by this point relaxed her greatly and thank heavens she’s done with all of that. Now, only two more kids to go…..


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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • architect mom June 11, 2012, 9:05 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Bobbi! It is all about opportunity. I read a quote from Nicholas Lemann who wrote The Big Test describe the SAT as the nation’s single most important instrument for sorting and assigning students to different levels of educational opportunity. That is an interesting way to look at it & quite true.

  • Bobbi June 8, 2012, 3:40 pm

    Wow – this is so helpful and believe it or not we’ve already had a few chats about taking the SAT and just what it means to keep as many options open for as long as possible. I know it’s a ways off but not that far off and it’s good to get them to start wrapping their minds around this. I will be forwarding to a few other mom friends. Thanks, Joan!!

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