Sunday, February 17, 2019

Taking the SAT at age 4

In this article, I'm going to link our work on the COGAT at age 4 to the work on the SAT 6 or 7 years later. It's identical.

Did I say SAT at age 4?

We've kicked off SAT practice. I'm struck at the continuum of learning between age 4 COGAT practice and age 10 SAT practice. If you consider our other insane activities like Every Day Math grade 2 in Kindergarten or accelerated vocabulary up to 2nd grade, you'll appreciate the doable-ness of the latest experiment. No, it's not age 4, but it's the exact same experience all over again. In this learning continuum, I don't really see anything new developing at the base of the skills pyramid. It's quite surprising that the subskills are the same as well, they just morph with changes in topics.

Our approach

You will find a PDF of Practice Test #1 on the college board website. On page #38, the math test begins. The reading tests can wait until a less age-inappropriate age. We started with question 1, and here we are a month later on question #15. We did questions #12 through #15 last weekend, and did them again yesterday; my son did not recognize the material from the prior week. Last night, after a few hours, I think I figured out how a child is supposed to do question #15 in a reasonable amount of time, but I'm still stuck. We tried question #15 7 times and failed 7 times.

So far, our success rate on all questions is about 25%, and we're averaging about 20 minutes per question. You don't get this experience in school, in an after school program, or with a tutor. Flying along on a worksheet of doable problems bypasses a variety of learning experiences.

The first few weeks of math or reading or COGAT test prep with most children seems like a futile exercise, especially if they are not ready, which is the best time to start. What do I hope to accomplish?

What I hope to accomplish

I've done this type of thing many times, and this will be the second time I've gone through the SAT with a child who is the wrong age. I know exactly what to expect.

  • I expect to take off time to study things that we need to know but don't. In the case of the SAT, it's pre-algebra. In the case of the COGAT, it was studying shapes and shape transformations. In the case of EDM Grade 2, it was how to subtract.
  • I expect the pace to pick up slowly between now and the end of 6th grade. We'll never get to the point where the child can do all 15 or 30 problems from one section of the SAT in the time allowed. We'll probably get up to 5 problems in on 30 to 60 minute sitting with a score of 60%, 80%, or occasionally 100%.
  • By next year, we'll be taking some time off to cover Geometry theorems or basic trigonometry.
  • During this process, my child will start to learn shortcuts. What is the objective of math, after all, but highly refined cheating? Sometimes he'll just plug in the answers and prove to me that this is the best approach. I'm more impressed when he shows me that if you look at the problem the right way, not the equationy way, the answer is obvious.
  • Finally, I expect him to sit for the actual SAT, and despite never having done more than 5 problems in one sitting, make a fairly good show. It's amusing to see a 12 year old standing in line with a bunch of high school juniors. I have mixed feelings when the same 12 year old scores in the top 3rd of college bound juniors.
Counter Intuitive Pedagogy

I have a hard time convincing the Kumon crowd that my way is better. After all, if you drill your child daily on grade level or grade level + 1 math, your child is going to do pretty well. During 2nd through 3rd grade, we took the Test Prep Math approach (see the curriculum page) and avoided routine math and worksheets at all costs. I can't argue that our 99% is better than your 99%. I can argue that spending most of our time developing cognitive skills is much more valuable than mastering math concepts, but most people don't get it. How can I promise that the best way to academic success is to avoid arithmetic in favor of confusion and mistakes?

If you are just starting out, I just gave you a glimpse of the future. If you're beyond the COGAT, join the fun on my other website The current issue is philosophy, which is a 4 year project in the works.

If you have any insight on question #15 from section 3 in practice test #1, feel free to share. We're stuck. If (ax + 2)(bx + 7) = 15x2 +cx + 14 for all values of x, and a + b = 8, what are the two possible values for c? I can see what's happening mathematically, but I can't see how a high school junior is supposed to address this quickly without the brute force approach. Otherwise, I'm going to sit this question aside on the watch list for another shot in 6 months. There are, of course, answers on the college board website, but I'm more interested in the learning process than the knowing process, so don't look there. That's cheating.