kitchen table math, the sequel: Does Yoga Help ? And other Questions I've Been Asked About the SAT

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Does Yoga Help ? And other Questions I've Been Asked About the SAT

I been collecting questions and making flashcards out of them over the last few months, but now I want to take them down, bird by bird, before I'm "immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead."*

Questions such as:

  • Have my opinions and ideas on this project changed?
  • Do I still believe that it is possible that I can achieve a perfect score?
  • Have my ideas on influencing my children changed? Do I feel that I've influenced them at all...either in the negative or positive sense.
  • Am I starting to believe that the SAT is more or less important than I first thought?
  • What were my parents' expectations of me when I was in school?
  • How did I respond to those expectations?
  • Did I push back? (Short answer: You have no idea.)
  • Do I wish my parents had pushed me more?
  • What do I think I've missed out on in life because I didn't do as well as I would have liked to in school?

.....and on and on and on.....

I'm going to start with one from the easier pile:

How important do you think yoga has been to working through the SATs? which I responded:

YES YES YES, Yoga Helps. Enormously.

I found a few more words in my notes from last January, a few weeks before my first SAT since 1982:

My anxiety about this SAT is so extreme that I committed to going to yoga every single day. I had an epiphany in the midst of chants and oms and happy baby poses that the best thing I can do is to figure out how to relax.

I still had more to say, but the words I was looking for were delivered today in the form of a book called Zen in the Art of the SAT.

Instead of me wracking my brain, I'm just going to go with, yeah, what they said:

With the SAT, it's not enough to know the material. To excel on the SAT you must be confident about your ability to read carefully and solve problems -- even strange, inscrutable ones -- under timed conditions. That's what makes the SAT so intimidating. You can't just memorize the material and then regurgitate it; you have to act in the moment......

As you learn how to ace the SAT, you will gain a deeper understanding of yourself....You will learn to do your best on the SAT not through any tricks or secret formulas, but rather by getting a firm handle on the workings of your own mind.

*Quote comes from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you haven't read this book yet, you must.

Cross-posted on Perfect Score Project


SteveH said...

"With the SAT, it's not enough to know the material. To excel on the SAT you must be confident about your ability to read carefully and solve problems -- even strange, inscrutable ones -- under timed conditions."

Yoga might calm your nerves, but what will really calm your nerves is lots of real problem practice. I've been looking at some AMC problems and it's much more than having the ability to solve them. It's the "under timed conditions" that is the problem.

The following problem is from the book "First Steps for Math Olympians", and is also problem number 15 from the 2004 AMC 12A test.

"Brenda and Sally run in opposite directions on a circular track, starting at diametrically opposed points. Each girl runs at a constant speed. They first meet after Brenda has run 100 meters. They next meet after Sally has run 150 meters past their first meeting point. What is the length of the track in meters?"

A) 250
B) 300
C) 350
D) 400
E) 500

This not that difficult until you factor in the 3 minute time limit.

There is a huge difference between having the ability to solve these problems and the ability to do so within a time limit.

In the Math Olympians book, the author talks about how these tests might damage students. He says that:

"Although there has been a concerted effort recently to make the first group of problems on the AIME less difficult, there have been years when the median score on this 15-question test was 0. ... This, again, could discourage a sensitive student from competing in later years."

Yes, let's give them a test that schools never prepare them for, and then call them "sensitive" if they freak out. K-6 math denies or cannot possibly understand the importance of these tests. They offer absolutely no curriculum path from their ideas of critical thinking to those required by these tests.

Debbie Stier said...

You are so right about the time issue. That's my biggest problem right now. If I could just have 10 more minutes on the math, and maybe 5 more for the reading, I could do so much better. The writing I'm ok with.

I have had a whole battery of neuro-psych tests, and the psychologist said I do in fact have slow processing and test like the kids who get time and a half. I've been debating if I make a case and see if I can do one SAT with time and a half.

SteveH said...

There is a fine line between pushing too little and pushing too much. Would it be better to talk of this in terms of expectations? I expect my son to know the value of hard work. Right now, I'm trying to get him to realize that for some colleges, high school grades are weighted one-third and SAT is weighted two-thirds. He tends to think of the SAT as just some minor sort of extra over his regular grades.

However, I care more about the hard work issue than anything else. I also care about the quality and efficiency of the work. I haven't really gotten into "push mode" for SAT/AMC test prep, but as the Wicked Witch of the West says: “These things must be handled delicately.” Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

Ultimately, there are lots of alternate paths even if one does not get into the first choice college. That should keep parents from pushing too much. I think it also helps if the student has a particular dream or goal in mind; if they can translate that back to the specific things they have to do now. That's the goal, not getting into a high ranked college.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, let's give them a test that schools never prepare them for, and then call them 'sensitive' if they freak out."

Since the author *is* describing a real phenomena (kids getting discouraged when they find that they don't know something new, or, kids doing poorly on a test because the material is new to them) *AND* not all kids get discouraged, what word other than sensitive would you choose?

Fragile? I don't think this helps much.

Some kids are just much more resilient when they get their butts kicked in a competition. The author is discussing an effort to keep the less resilient kids from giving up on the activity entirely. What is the problem with the effort or the word to describe these kids?

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

"What is the problem with the effort or the word to describe these kids?"

The word is "unprepared", not sensitive or fragile. The author's book is supposed to help those who don't have access to this preparation at schools, but there is no comment on how poorly schools do this job. The assumption is that this nonlinear jump in skills and knowledge should normally come outside of a regular curriculum path. This is not about the very small percentage of top performers. The author complains about an example where "only" 20% of the 9th graders and 40% of the 10th graders were taking the test again. He does admit that the students he saw did poorly "not due to lack of ability, but rather lack of training." Again, that training is only defined outside of the regular curriculum.

Crimson Wife said...

I have to wonder if there's a gender difference in response to doing poorly on a tricky math test. It's been my observation that girls are more likely than boys to give up & think "oh, I'm just not good at math" and less likely to view it as a gauntlet being thrown down. There were a fair number of girls on the freshman math team at my high school but most did not continue after the first year (myself included). Leaving aside the small number of whizzes, I don't think that most of the boys who continued were any smarter than the girls who did not, but they were more persistent/resilient.

I'll have to look into that book, it sounds interesting.

Anonymous said...

The kids do poorly on the test/competition because of a lack of preparation.

The kids *bail* on future efforts because they don't deal well with crashing and burning.

The tests were changed by the testing company/organization to address the second problem (which makes sense, since they can't do a lot about the first other than encouraging folks to do better).

The kids weren't quitting solely because of a lack of training. And the author needs a word to describe condition two.

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

"... since they can't do a lot about the first ..."

Obviously, but the author could better address the huge gap between typical math curricula and what is needed for the AMC tests. Solve that first before making any guesses about not dealing with crashing and burning. By the time kids get to high school, it's too easy to blame them. Test the crashing and burning theory AFTER they have gone through his book.

So now they have AMC 8/10/12, but that doesn't fix the curriculum problem. It just tries to spread out the level of shock. Most kids are still required to make the huge leap outside of school.

SteveH said...

I bought the "First Steps for Math Olympians" book and the companion "The Contest Problem Book IX". They will set you back over $100. I like them because they get right to the point. I'm hoping that working on those problems will satisfy my son's preparation needs for the SAT.

One of the points of the thread has to do with pushing. I have to convince my son that in spite of his good grades and being a year ahead in math, he still has a lot more work to do. How about finding out whether kids feel like they are wasting their time in school?

lgm said...

>>Most kids are still required to make the huge leap outside of school.

It's similar in other subjects, no? Music almost requires private tutoring in order to make the all-state cut - the level of skill development necessary isn't taught at the poorer schools, but it is at the richer schools. Sports..some varsity sports are seeing only travel athletes make the team, meaning money wins. For math, if the school won't sponsor a math club or provide honors math, then it's up to the parent to provide the problems sets and the thinking skills development. Again, he who has the resources wins. School is a waste of time for outliers.

SteveH said...

Where is the cut-off? It may not be the AMC test, but do schools provide a proper curriculum path for SAT/ACT preparation? "... money wins ...". That's exactly my point. It shouldn't be that way, or, at least, the cutoff should be higher.

lgm said...

Schools used to provide a proper curriculum path, when the space age math materials were used. I scored over 700 on the math SAT on Dolciani from Grade 7 up. I do attribute some of it to New Math, which everyone seems to despise, but for me in 5th grade was eye-opening, as it got away from rote algorithm teaching and really explained the whys and the number system we use. None of this is offered today, it's all watered down pap for gen ed. taught as rote algorithm memorization with the goal of memorizing enough to pass the Regent's exam UNLESS you are in one of a handful of districts that offer real Honors Math and don't weed students off that path in second grade. The pendulum in school has stopped at the point where it is felt unfair to offer anything 'elite' such as a real math education. That's work, and the general populace doesn't want that much work for their least in my district where they are quite vocal about it. They don't want it offered to children who are willing to work, as that would put theirs at a disadvantage.