Curriculum Design for the New SAT & PSAT
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Curriculum Design for the New SAT and PSAT

The SAT is perhaps the most widely used test of reasoning and problem-solving skills in America. Unlike tests of knowledge, which primarily test information recall, the SAT tests a student's ability to apply a small amount of knowledge creatively to a diverse set of problems. Because of the value of these problem solving skills in virtually any high-level academic or professional pursuit, the SAT is given significant weight in the college application process. In fact, SAT scores are even used by many of the most selective investment banks and consulting firms as part of their hiring decisions.

The cognitive skills that the SAT tests are often considered impossible to teach. Several companies exist that teach students to increase their SAT score by using various shortcuts instead (e.g. "backsolve", "plug-in"). These methods do not generally develop reasoning skills; if anything, they teach students ways to avoid using reasoning skills already developed. Thus, most schools are resistant to incorporating these types of methods into their curricula.

An alternative approach to SAT training involves developing the core intellectual skills through rigorous academic training. In a sense, this is what any high-quality education seeks to do. AVE's curriculum design services help schools enhance existing curricula to help their students develop the core knowledge and problem solving skills relevant to the SAT.

Success on the SAT requires a mastery core knowledge and fundamental methods, and refinement of problem solving skills. The core knowledge necessary includes vocabulary, mathematical formulas, grammar rules, etc. The skills include reading skills, pattern recognition, and analytical problem solving skills.

The core knowledge required for the SAT is significantly less than the knowledge required for most courses. The same is true of fundamental methods. However, both the knowledge and the fundamental methods must be thoroughly integrated and ready for application, rather than simply memorized. The SAT requires students to use this limited amount of knowledge creatively, while seeking connections between separate pieces of information. This can not be done unless the required knowledge has been properly integrated.

After initial conversations with students, faculty, parents, and the administration, the curriculum design process tests the knowledge and basic skills of students at various levels. Students basic vocabulary, grammar knowledge, and math knowledge is tested. This aspect of testing does not test a students creative and analytical thinking abilities. Instead it simply tests the students basic foundation. These diagnostics contain basic vocabulary, grammar, reading, and math questions. Students may be asked to add fractions, define basic words, describe parts of speech, or analyze a basic written passage. These diagnostics are not multiple choice. The methods students use to answer these questions are as telling as the answers themselves.

The results of these tests are examined along with current curricula to locate any gaps that may have arisen. This is particularly important in mathematics, where the recent addition of calculators into the classroom has damaged the mathematical foundations of many students. Any areas of concern are brought to the attention of the institution, along with recommended improvements. When appropriate, supplementary materials are developed.

While filling in gaps in students' fundamentals is necessary, it is far from sufficient. Problem solving and reasoning skills must be developed, and this is a much more subtle task. Reasoning tests are given, either along with the knowledge tests or at a later time. These tests include logical questions of varying degrees of difficulty. These tests are not multiple choice, for the same reasons as before. When appropriate, oral diagnostics are also given.

These tests are closely examined, along with current curricula, to locate ways in which student's problem solving skills can be enhanced. In some ways, this process looks at large scale methods. For example, the level of calculator use in mathematics classes may be examined. However, the process is generally much more subtle. Are geometry students studying symbolic logic? Are trigonometry students learning to replace sin2x+cos2x with 1 in a trigonometric identity? Or are they learning to replace sin2x with 1-cos2x? Does the discussion of sequences include a section in which students must intuit the formula by pattern recognition? Are recursive sequences discussed, and if so to what extent? Are students learning about the subtle humor and innuendo in Hamlet ? Or has this discussion been removed for the sake of propriety? Through what methods of examining structure and function have students learned to identify gerunds? These subtleties can have a dramatic impact on a student's intellectual skills, particularly those involved in pattern recognition, and SAT performance.

Upon completion of this analysis, strengths and weaknesses of current methodologies are presented, along with areas with potential for enhancement. Improvements and additions are recommended, and when appropriate, supplementary materials are developed. These modifications serve not only prepare students for the SAT, but also help them develop intellectual skills that will serve them for their lifetimes.

Schools may opt to have several aspects of their curricula examined and developed, or choose to work with a limited set. Pricing depends on the level of service requested.

For more information, please call AVE at (301) 320-3634, or email satconsulting@arvinvohra.com.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does the process take?
Determining current level of core knowledge and cognitive skills generally takes from one to two weeks. This may vary in exceptional situations. Adjusting the current curricle to more thoroughly cover fundamental required knowledge generally takes two weeks. Integrating basic methods to develop reasoning and problem-solving skills into the curriculum generally takes another two to four weeks. Time required for further development ranges depending on level of development requested.

Which grade levels are the focus of the process?
The process involves primarily grades 7-11; however, some modification curricula of the lower grades may be appropriate in certain situations.

Can SAT Curriculum Design focus on only one section of the SAT?
The process can be adjusted to focus exclusively on any part of the SAT. In fact, the process can focus on an even smaller aspect of the SAT, such as specific topics or problem types.

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All materials © Arvin Vohra Education, 2005