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Should My Middle School Child Enroll In a SAT Prep Course?

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“When should my child take a SAT prep class?”  This is one question I am asked again and again, and it’s a valid question.  Some parents worry that they are being overzealous by asking if their 8th grade student should begin SAT test preparation while others worry their 7th grader may be “behind everyone else” based on a 7th grade SAT test score.  As is the case with most things in life, the answer is not clear-cut; rather a multitude of factors are in play here.  Questions that must be asked include:

       What do you want your child to gain from taking a SAT prep course?

       Is the dynamic between your child’s SAT score and college acceptance the motivating factor?

       What about eligibility for summer programs, like Duke’s TIP Program?

       Are scholarships already on your mind?

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For the parents of middle school students, the question that really should be asked is this:

Is the goal of participation in a SAT prep course only centered around helping the student succeed on the SAT (thus, laying the groundwork for college admissions and scholarships), or is there a broader academic interest at play? 

In addressing these questions as they relate to middle school students, I will be direct and honest in sharing my true thoughts on this subject with you.  Having said that, there will be those who disagree with me, and that’s fine.  Read my bio, hear what I have to say, and simply consider the ideas that I will put forth.

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So… should I enroll my middle school child in a SAT Prep Class?

Basic summation: they’re in middle school, so don’t sweat it too hard; however, if you want to prepare them for the SAT Reading Test as well as the SAT Writing and Language Test, then that’s fine because there are numerous benefits in doing this.

At first glance, I’m honestly not a big fan of giving the SAT to middle school students for a number of reasons, including:

  1. It’s a college admissions test, and they’re nowhere close to attending college.
  2. When they take the test unprepared, the test is a very unpleasant experience.

Admittedly, my opinions on this matter are largely rooted in my own experience as a middle school student.

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 In 1993, I took the SAT as a 7th grade student and it was a painful experience.  Even though I was enrolled in Algebra 1 as part of being on an advanced track for math, I remember knowing very little of the math on that test.  I was your typical straight-A student and I had never taken a test where I didn’t know how to answer many of the questions (better yet, most of them).  The experience felt very defeating.  Not only that, the “English” test at that time was very vocabulary-heavy, and it included both analogies as well as sentence completion questions.  I remember knowing a few of the words in the answer choices, and that was defeating as well.  Once the test was finished, it felt like a total disaster.  I remember thinking that I wasn’t that smart after all, and it had me questioning myself as a student.

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Fortunately, much has changed since then: both sentence completion and analogy questions are no longer on the test; rather, the ELA portions of the test now focus on reading passages as well as grammar and style questions.  For a middle school student, this is a much better scenario: grammar is taught in elementary and middle school, and reading has been a central focus of every child’s education since day 1.  Granted, the complexity of some of the SAT reading passages exceeds what a middle student is used to reading, but the test is undeniably far friendlier to a middle school student than it was 25 years ago.

As a career educator who focuses exclusively on preparing students for tests (mostly the SAT), I can say that, with test preparation, a middle school student can do extremely well on the SAT Writing and Language Test and pretty well on the SAT Reading Test.

So, this now returns us to the previous question you’re asking, which is:

Should parents have their children begin SAT test preparation in middle school?

My answer?

For the mere sake of doing well on the SAT, no; for the benefit of their overall education, yes. 

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Middle school students don’t have to do well on the SAT because they are not applying to college this year or the next.  With that said, there are numerous academic benefits that come with quality SAT test prep that should not be overlooked.

Reading Test Preparation in Middle School

When a student of any age prepares for the SAT Reading Test, a greater reading comprehension skill is developed that is broadly applicable to anything a student reads.

For instance, reading tests from across the board love to ask about the main idea of a text because, well, that’s widely seen as one of the most important concepts to grasp from a text.  When you read something, the question of “what’s the point” usually plays at the forefront of your mind, right?  In this regard, the SAT is no different than any other reading test.  Working with a 7th or 8th grade students to improve their ability to determine the main idea of a text helps them not just on the SAT, but in their English classes for the rest of middle and high school (and beyond!) as well as helps them do this with anything they read in life, which is obviously an important skill to possess.

There are many concepts that are tested on the SAT Reading Test that, when students prepare for them, will prepare them for any future reading test as well as simply make them better readers.  Reading is perhaps the most foundational skill in a child’s educational skill set; it’s essential to success in any other content area.  With that said, there is much to like about preparing a child for the SAT Reading Test while in middle school.

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Even now, as I work with my own 8 year-old daughter on her reading comprehension assignments for her 3rd grade classes, I implement the same strategies with her that I teach to my students in my SAT preparation course.  The text my daughter is reading is obviously much simpler, but these reading strategies can be learned at any age.  Knowing these strategies really does make a genuine difference in a child’s education, so I am fine with a middle school student preparing for the SAT Reading Test.

One further point to make here: let’s consider two different timelines.  SAT test preparation for the Reading Test in middle school versus, say, waiting until the 11th grade.  How do the results differ?

In both cases, after taking my SAT test prep class focused on the Reading Test, students perform better on:

  • the PSAT and SAT Reading Test
  • AP exams
  • IB exams
  • the ASVAB
  • state assessments
  • classroom assessments

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The very same strategies I teach in a SAT Reading Test course are exceedingly effective on AP exams.  In fact, one great point of feedback I consistently receive is how useful these strategies are for students taking not just the AP English Language and Composition exam or the AP English Literature and Composition exam, but also on AP history tests and even AP Biology (this test leans toward the reading-intensive side).  Many students take these tests in the 9th and 10th grades but wait until the 11th grade to take my SAT preparation class and learn these strategies.  This leads to the other comment I hear all of the time, which is:

“I wish I would have known this for the past few years!”

or…

“This would have been some helpful on my AP exam last year!”

The key difference is this: when will they start performing better?  In the 9th grade on, say, AP Human Geography, or not until the AP exams in the 11th grade, once the student has finally taken my SAT prep course?

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My advice: learn these reading strategies that can be learned at any age, and make good use of them throughout the rest of middle school and high school.

Writing and Language Test Preparation in Middle School

The SAT Writing and Language Test is basically a big grammar test, and grammar is a content area that, like reading, can be learned at any age.  This is dissimilar to math, where a student needs to learn Algebra 1 before learning Algebra 2, Algebra 2 before PreCalculus, and so on.  Grammar concepts, such as the difference between ‘s and s’ for singular vs. plural possession, can be learned at any age and should be learned at a young age.

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Effectively understanding many grammar concepts seen on the SAT Writing and Language Test will help a student communicate better through improved speaking and writing; not only that, but learning grammar also helps a student read better too.

Consider this sentence:

“That’s my sisters’ bedroom.”

Knowing that s’ means two or more sisters are in possession of the bedroom results in a student understanding that there are sisters who share that room.  Information such as this can often be critical in understanding a text.   

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Having a firm grasp of punctuation allows students to elevate their writing from simple sentences to more complex sentences.

Antonio was late to work today.

Antonio has been late to work every day this week.

Versus

Antonio was late to work today; in fact, Antonio has been late to work every day this week.

As students’ brains (see what I did there with the apostrophe?) mature from the simplicity of childhood to considering matters that require much more complex thought, they cannot adequately evaluate complex situations with a “See Jane. See Jane run.  Run, Jane, run!” communication system.  Language provides the tools for thought, and building a student’s language toolkit (so to speak) also helps build a student’s ability to deeply examine matters that require a critical thinking ability.

My advice: learn grammar well at a young age, and allow that newfound knowledge to enable much-improved thinking and communication abilities.  There’s zero reason to wait.

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Results

Middle schools regularly ask me to work with their kids on the SAT and PSAT, and the results speak for themselves.  In August of 2019, I had a middle school call me and ask if I would work with their 8th grade students on the upcoming PSAT.  There is an award in South Carolina called “Junior Scholar,” and it is given to students who make at least a 550 on Evidence-based Reading and Writing or a 530 on Math.  I worked with the students a few different times leading up to the PSAT, and I did exactly what I have told you in this article: I focused on the SAT Reading Test as well as the SAT Writing and Language Test.

The results?

The school doubled the number of students who received the Junior Scholar award compared to 2018.

This year, every middle school in that school district has now asked me to work with their students.

The numbers don’t lie.

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This isn’t rocket science, folks.  Kids learn reading and grammar from an early age, so it’s okay to teach it to them in middle school, even if it’s under the guise of a SAT test prep class.   

Conclusion

In determining whether your middle school-aged child should take a SAT prep course, a number of questions must be considered.  Namely, the two chief questions are this:  do you want to prepare your child for the SAT?  Or, do you want to further your child’s education, and in the process, help prepare your child for the SAT as well?  The focus truly makes the difference here.  Even though I do teach a number of highly effective SAT test strategies, my focus as a certified teacher has always been to educate my students properly in my classes, and then let the great SAT score be a mere reflection of the education they have received.

This must be emphasized: I am not speaking on behalf of every SAT test prep class.  I speak to you today as a certified classroom teacher who has taken the perspective of educating students and let the test score reflect the result of that improved education.  I 100% know what I do in my SAT prep classes works, but I cannot speak for other SAT test preparation courses.  If you want to know if a SAT test preparation course is good for your child, then read my next article titled, “How Do I Know if a SAT Prep Class Will Be Effective?”

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About the Author

Since his youngest years, Tim Anderson been preparing to help his students with the SAT. When he was in high school, a SAT competition was formed in his home state of South Carolina, and Tim won the state championship. As a certified public school teacher, Tim taught the SAT elective class at his high school, which grew from one class of 15 students each semester to 4 classes with over a hundred students each semester and a lengthy wait-list (getting great results has a way of doing that).

As an independent teacher for the past few years, Tim has helped thousands of students at over 50 schools earn the SAT score they want for college admissions and scholarships. Tim’s philosophy of teaching is this: people love to learn, as long as it is entertaining. In class, Tim shares his SAT expertise with a sense of humor and energy that is simply unrivaled. 

For more information about Tim’s classes, visit www.SATPrepTeacher.com.  

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