What do we do in a prep class?

By Dennis Schulman on

Most of the time in a prep class is spent going over techniques to solve math and reading questions. We go over previous questions and when solving them we learn the content required for the test as well as the best approach to the questions. In math, there are a number of questions requiring Alg I and II knowledge as well as geometry, but there are also many questions that require nothing more than pre-high school math. Many questions are, however, unusual questions that most students are not prepared for. In math education, we call them non-routine questions. They require problem solving techniques that most students have never learned. Some students discover techniques on their own, but that is unusual. Most need to be taught them and practice them to grow accustomed to how and when to use the techniques.

In critical reading, students also benefit from techniques as these types of questions are not commonly practiced in high school English classes. Students have to read quickly and understand why the authors of the passage are communicating that particular information. They need to read for themes and main ideas. Sometimes, writers are being sarcastic and students have a lot of difficulty picking this up. Some students have a lot of difficulty with the vocabulary. Learning vocabulary words over a long period of time is highly recommended to prepare for the exam.

I also go over the writing section, which is comprised of two sections of grammar questions and an essay. I spend less time on this section as most colleges don’t count it as much for admission as the other two sections – math and reading.

We also discuss general test-taking strategies in class, including using time wisely and how and when to make educated guesses. I try to keep the atmosphere in the class light, fun, focused and positive. I want all students to feel comfortable asking questions in class. I also go around the room giving students individual help.

Although the purpose of the class is to help students get as high scores as possible, I feel that the training in the prep class can be of great help in their high school and college classes. In math, they are being asked to problem solve, which is a great skill to develop. It is a skill not emphasized in schools, but it really ought to be. I work in a private school with students at all grade levels, from 4th grade through high school, and I emphasize problem solving. The students really come to enjoy the word problems, instead of dreading them, as they get more successful at solving them. So much of the SAT is pre high school problem solving. In the verbal section, students are asked to develop a strong vocabulary, which is definitely useful in their further schooling and in life. For the critical reading, they are asked to read with understanding and to consider why the authors are giving them the information in the passages, their purpose and motivations for writing the articles. This is also an important skill to develop, rather than just reading to memorize facts.