By Debbie Stier, author of The Perfect Score Project (Harmony, February 2014).
My project started as an attempt to motivate my son to care about the SATs. We needed a plan for college: how to get in and how to pay. I started researching the SAT, looking for hope, and it was during that search that I found an article about SAT scores leading to merit aid, which seemed promising.
I started with the SAT Question of the Day and immediately got hooked. They were like puzzles, and in a moment of enthusiasm, I declared I was going to try to achieve a perfect SAT score! I never expected my son to get a perfect score; he came up with his own goal, which we agreed on.
The project grew into a book idea—a “Consumer Reports” for the SAT. And so, in 2011, I took the test every time it was offered (seven times total) at five different test centers.
Both my and my son’s SAT scores improved by hundreds of points—but that’s not even the best part. The bigger gift was the shift in my son, who grew from a kid who was sliding by into a self-motivated young man. He worked hard and surpassed his goal, gaining confidence as a result. And he used in school the lessons he learned, ultimately graduating with his highest GPA ever. He started college with expectations for himself that I don’t think he’d have had without our SAT project.
Every student should be availed of opportunities for merit aid, which, unlike loans, don’t have to be repaid. The SAT is often a variable in scholarship money, yet many parents don’t realize this. One mother forwarded a note she sent to her school about her son, who’d been a B student. He studied hard for the SAT, surpassing his expectations, which resulted in merit aid offers ranging from $56,000 to $76,000.
“I can only believe his SAT scores (as compared to his GPA) made all the difference,” she wrote. “My only regret is that I wished I had known about this before he was in ninth grade.”
After taking seven SATs, I believe it’s possible for all students to raise their scores—but mastery does not come fast. Nor is preparing well for the SAT “teaching to the test,” a popular misconception. The SAT is an established factor of college admissions, and preparing can impart long-term benefits, including core academic principles and sound study habits. Sustained focus and hard work lie at the heart of all successful academic endeavors, including preparing for the SAT.
The College Board’s announcement of a “new SAT,” beginning spring 2016, leaves some hoping that the test will be easier—but 6 million students will still take the “old test” before the transition occurs.
However, core academic concepts will continue to be necessary in college, and so my approach will remain the same. What I learned is that studying hard for the SAT can reinforce academic concepts and lead to confidence and motivation. Ultimately, the magic of the project was in my relationship with my son—it brought us closer.
It is my hope that principals, school administrators, guidance counselors, and college coaches and last, but not least, students will benefit from reading the book.
Debbie Stier is a single mother of two teenagers. Her book publishing career has spanned two decades, most of it spent in PR where she was responsible for publicizing dozens of iconic books ranging from The Notebook to Marley and Me. Frequently covered by the media, including MediaBistro, New York Observor and New York Magazine, Debbie regularly speaks on topic pertaining to social media and technology as well as, most recently, standardized testing. She lives with her son and daughter in New York City, but you can find her at theperfectscoreproject.com.