As I mentioned the other day, C. and I have suddenly jumped a good 50 points in our math scores on Blue Book tests.
On April 6, C. missed 7 and skipped 1 on a 20-item math section.
Four days later, on April 10, he finished all 8 questions in an 8-question multiple choice section and missed just 1. He got 7 of the 10 grid-ins right, missed 2, and skipped 1.
And: all three of the questions he missed were dumb mistakes. He knew how to do the problems, and did them quickly enough to finish the test.
I've had the same experience. Last summer I couldn't hope to finish a math section; yesterday I finished early enough to go back and check my bubbles.
At first I thought the higher scores were a fluke. But C. has now turned in the same performance on 5 math sections in a row, and for me that number is probably 6 or even 7.
the power spike of learning?
I'm surprised. I don't remember ever experiencing a sudden jump in learning like this, and my understanding of the "learning curve" is that it's a power curve (if that's the right term), not a right angle. You make more gains early on than you do later.
C. and I made practically no gains early on. While C and I weren't doing a lot of SAT practice fall semester, we have been working with some regularity since January, and in that time we've gotten nowhere. He's been stuck in the high 500s, and I've been stuck in the low 600s. (Very low.)
In fact, I've been stuck in the low 600s for a good two years now. Not that I was practicing SAT math per se -- I wasn't -- but I have been studying high school math off and on during that period, and I've seen no transfer to SAT math at all.
Yesterday, my score on all 3 sections of Test 2 in the College Board online course was 690. C.'s score was 640.
C. said, "It's like I jumped over a wall."
If you graphed our scores on an xy plane, it would be more like we leaped a tall building in a single bound.
Now we have to leap another one.
arguing in French
The other night at dinner we were talking with our friends about whether they'd had this experience. One friend, an attorney, said tax law was her version of SAT math. She didn't get tax law at all until one day she did.
Then Ed remembered learning French in France. He was doing what C. and I have been doing: grinding away, putting in the time, having nothing much to show for it.
Then one day he was sitting around with some friends, and one of them made a provocative statement about something or other. Ed disagreed, an argument ensued, and at some point Ed realized he was arguing in French.
Arguing in a foreign language is the equivalent of an 800, I think.
What does this mean, if anything?
Well, first of all, I have to see whether C. and I really are stable at this new level. I suspect we are, but we'll see.
Second: start early. I have no idea why it's taken us so long to experience this leap, but no one becomes an expert - or even a proficient novice (which is probably what we are now) - in a day.
Third: The Blue Book has 10 real SAT tests. C. and I have taken all of the math sections in all 10 tests, and I have taken all 3 math sections in Debbie Stier's January 2011 test.* Our scores jumped somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 math sections taken over several months' time.
My current thinking on SAT prep is that students should do all 10 sample tests in the Blue Book at a minimum and should spread that work out over at least 4 months.
I'm also thinking it would be a good idea to do the 9 tests College Board offers online for $70.
reading and writing
I'm going to start paying attention to the reading and writing sections. We've done far fewer of those because C. is a very good reader and has been since he was little. He was one of those kids who taught himself to read. That's a funny story, which I know I've told before. C's Kindergarten teacher called us in for a parent-teacher meeting and told us C's handwriting indicated that he was at risk for a reading disability, which was true. Very bad handwriting is a flag.
Naturally, I figured: we've got two autistic kids so now we're going to have a dyslexic kid, too. Just our luck.
Two weeks later, C. could read. All of a sudden. He went from not reading to reading.
(Another case of a power right angle?)
Back on topic: because C's SAT reading scores are routinely in the low 700s, there's not a lot to learn about SAT prep from observing him, I don't think. He misses or skips questions when he absolutely does not know a vocabulary word and can't figure it out from context. I told him yesterday he has to get back to memorizing his SAT vocabulary words, so the challenge will be remembering to nag him to do it.
("Have you studied your SAT words?" "No." "Do you know where your SAT flash cards are?" "I have an iPod app I use." "Fine, but do you know where the cards are?" "They're in the family room." etc.)
The writing multiple choice questions are more interesting; he misses more of them and presumably will benefit from more practice. (We've done very few writing sections.)
I'm going to start paying attention and will report back.
* We had also re-taken all 3 sections of the first test in the Blue Book as well as 1 section of the first test in John Chung's book.