College Prep Genius Cathy Duffy

Cathy Duffy Review:  College Prep Genius

College Prep Genius is a SAT prep course with three primary components: an online course, a text, and a workbook. Students also need access to The Official SAT Study Guide (from The College Board). Students can study independently or they might be enrolled in a group class where they watch the online lessons. Either way, each student needs his or her own text and workbook. Students also have free online access to the College Prep Genius Homework Guide which serves as a course guide and answer key. I recommend printing out this 69-page guide since it will be used frequently.

The course has twelve lessons, each running about 45 minutes. The first lesson is an introduction to the SAT. Three lessons focus on critical reading, and four each concentrate on math and writing respectively. Lessons show the strategies and sample problems on the screen while Jean Burk explains them step-by-step. Even though the lessons are not entertaining, they present the material professionally, clearly, and thoroughly. As students watch the lessons, they should occasionally pause the video while they practice what they have just learned in their workbooks.

The text adds information not in the lesson about broader test taking strategy that applies to both the PSAT and SAT, information about scholarships, and instructions and forms for keeping a journal on test prep efforts. In an appendix, the text also has “My Motivation Test,” a form of learning style assessment with application worksheets for students to use once they’ve determined how they are motivated. This helps them create a test prep strategy most suitable for each student. Even though the text repeats some of the content of the videos, the repetition in this format helps reinforce the learning, and the additional information is so important that students really should read it.

Burk’s strategy includes memorizing acronyms that help students tackle the various types of questions. For example, the “COAT” strategy to use for passage-based reading questions stands for “ Completely irrelevant, Obscure information, Additional information,” and “ Totally contradictory information”— students identify responses that fit these descriptions to eliminate incorrect responses. Acronyms are taught throughout the lessons and there is an “acronym overview” for easy review. I suspect that some students will find the acronyms easier to memorize and use than others. Nevertheless, students will learn about the various types of questions and answers and how to respond most efficiently.

The goal is to significantly increase student scores on the SAT with practice and mastery of skills that apply to this particular test as well as the PSAT, even down to how and when to fill in the bubble grid with answers. Interestingly, while Burk urges students to work on expanding their vocabulary, she acknowledges that students are unlikely to be able to master all of the potential words that they will encounter. So she teaches critical thinking strategies for tackling vocabulary in the “sentence completion” section of the test. In addition, an appendix in the text has lists of prefixes, suffixes, and root words with definitions that student should memorize.

Similarly, another appendix has 26 pages with charts with math terms and their definitions. A column to the right allows space for students to write an example to make sure they have mastered each of these. To the far right is a check-off box to mark when students are confident they know each one. This is a very concise way for students to review math concepts for that section of the test.

Burk strongly encourages students to take an official practice exam before starting the course as well as while taking the course. This gives them a baseline to track their improvement. Students should also register for and take the SAT (as well as the PSAT) a number of times to achieve their best score and try to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The College Prep Genius Homework Guide is written for either the parent/teacher or for the student completing the course through independent study. Students in a class group still need the detailed lesson instructions at the beginning of each lesson. (These sections could probably be cut-and-pasted for their use fairly easily if you don’t want students to have access to the answer keys.) These instructions parallel each DVD lesson with assignments for specific pages to read in the College Prep Genius text and in The Official SAT Study Guide as well as workbook pages to complete. The Homework Guide also tells the teacher or student to grade problems and then write results in particular places to track progress and identify challenging topics. The Homework Guide makes it easy to coordinate all of the course components.

College Prep Genius is obviously the product of many years of experience. It is well thought out and thorough. Burk claims that many of her students have increased their scores by hundreds of points, which generally translates into increased scholarship assistance–or even a free ride—to cover the cost of college. I expect that many students will profit from the motivation of working through this course in a group setting, and it is excellent for that purpose. But I’m even more impressed with the course for use for independent study. It’s great to have an option that gives students so many of the benefits of a group class yet allows them to complete the course independently and on their own schedule. This has to be one of the best options for SAT test preparation if mastering test-taking strategies is your primary goal.

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