Debbie Stier is the founder of perfectscoreproject.com and author of the upcoming book The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT. The book and the site provide details on Debbie’s quest to ace the SAT. What originally started as a way to spark her son’s interest in the SAT led to countless hours of studying and 7 attempts at acing the exam. Learn more about Debbie and the Perfect Score Project in the interview below.
1. You took the SAT 7 times over the course of 10 months: how did your scores improve from the first test to the last?
I went up by 330 points (superscore). My son went up 540 points (from 10th grade PSAT). I saw the most improvement on the writing section and the least improvement in the math. The moral of the story (I think) is that I didn’t have a solid foundation in math and hadn’t practiced in 30 years whereas with reading and writing, I’d been in book publishing and had been honing those skills for decades. No amount of test prep can overcome a weak foundation.
2. All parents want their kids to do well on the SAT, but few make the effort to study and take the test with them—much less take the test 7 times. Beyond keeping your son motivated to succeed on the SAT, what kept you going from one test to the next?
Well, first of all, I would say that any parent can do what I did (i.e. motivate a teenager to study for the SAT), and it doesn’t take 7 tests! Any level of warm engagement from a parent will do (even if they don’t act like it at first. Be patient. They will!). What kept me going was that I actually like the SAT (crazy as that sounds). I enjoyed it … like a crossword puzzle.
3. The College Board reports that 55% of juniors improved their score when they took the SAT again in their senior year. What is your advice for students retaking the SAT? How can they get the most out of it?
Oh, wow, let me see if I can be brief here: Be methodical with the preparation. The more vocab, the better. Sit in the front row on test day, if possible. Take the test in a small classroom (not a cafeteria or gym). Try to get a regular desk (i.e. not a arm/chair desk tablet).
4. Having tried a variety of test prep methods, which did you find the most effective? What set it apart from the others?
Use College Board material and be sure that any and all supplementary test prep decodes the mother ship (i.e. the official College Board Blue Book). GREAT books for decoding official material include: Erica Meltzer’s Critical Reading and Writing books, PWN the SAT’s Essay Guide and Math Guide, Philip Keller’s math book, the Direct Hits books for vocabulary, Tutor Ted for math solutions.
5. On your blog, you provide a lot of practical SAT tips that are not directly related to taking the test, for example, best SAT snacks or picking the right test location. From your experience, what is the single most important tip of this kind?
Take as many full, timed practice tests before test day as possible using official, College Board material (i.e. endurance train) — and make sure to know the answers to every question before moving on to another practice test. And, know the answers to the questions so well you could explain them to your teacher’s teacher.