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Joanne Calderwood - Christian Homeschooling, Home Education

Great Expectations: A Winning Combo for the Perfect SAT Score

  • Joanne Calderwood Homeschool Enrichment
  • 2009 10 Oct
  • COMMENTS
Great Expectations: A Winning Combo for the Perfect SAT Score

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I'm a huge proponent of two distinct methodologies: self-learning and mastery learning. These strategies take the pressure out of home education and enable us to enjoy the homeschooling journey while raising our children to be all they were created to be. Rewarding responsible students with the freedom to self-teach, coupled with the concept of learning each day's lessons to an A level, forms the foundation for success in education and other areas—the foundation, in other words, for faithfulness with what we have been given.

How can we best encourage our children to develop the gifts they have been given? In my experience, it has been through these two methods.

Recently I came across a book entitled SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score by Dr. Tom Fischgrund. I picked it up because it was based on a study of perfect-score students and contained the results of interviews with the students and their parents, along with statistics of all sorts. This study purports to be the "first of its kind to look at the highest academic achievers in the United States."1

Sound intriguing? I thought so. I wondered if I would find anything that would support the mastery and self-learning techniques that have been my family's mainstay. What can we learn from studying the highest achievers, and how will that knowledge help us raise naturally high-achieving students? What makes these students tick? What are their habits, and what makes them successful?

A variety of interesting findings came from the study. For example, students who earn a perfect score on the SAT generally spend several more hours per week reading (and less time watching TV) than those who get an average score. Few describe themselves as the brainy type. They're typically involved in only one or two activities outside of the classroom rather than having a diversified list of activities, but they pursue their interests with passion. More than 90 percent of perfect score students say they have a particular skill or passion, and they tend to follow with determination whatever piques their interest. They also have confidence in approaching problems or situations of any kind. This type of yes-I-can attitude is invaluable.

So what motivates high achievers? "Perfect score students . . . depend largely on their own inner motivation to drive them to success."2 In addition,

. . . almost without exception, perfect score students are incredibly motivated to succeed—not just in academics, but also in life. Motivation is the key to high academic achievement and a perfect SAT score. It's the spark that drives students through their high school years, college, and beyond. It's the dividing line that separates successful people from those who aren't . . . Perfect-score students are incredibly self-motivated, but they also have parents who expected them to achieve from the start. By believing in their children, these parents infused their kids with a belief in themselves . . . [which] enabled perfect score students to become their own motivators in high school and beyond. [emphasis added] 3

When these students were asked to give the name of the person(s) who motivated them academically, a whopping 90 percent said they motivated themselves. We simply cannot underestimate the power of a motivated student, and it is our faith in our children that inspires that yes-I-can attitude that in turn enables them to soar.

How does one motivate a homeschooled student? In my homeschool, I use self-teaching as a reward for mature behavior. If students are trustworthy, they are allowed to begin working more and more on their own, with accountability suited to the age of each student. Nothing motivates a student more than being allowed to go at his own pace according to his ability and not be held back by Mom's spoon-feeding. While mastery learning is a habit I teach children from a very early age, self-teaching is a privilege, and it can be revoked at any time if a student does not follow the guidelines. As we see in SAT Perfect Score, motivation is the key to success, and nothing motivates a student more than having relative control over his learning environment.

While Dr. Fischgrund concurs that some kids may be born with more internal drive than others, he agrees that all have the capability of being self-starters. I don't know about you, but I have seen students over the years who had great potential but failed to progress accordingly, and the missing factor is motivation—which primarily is parent-instilled. "Perfect-score students nearly all agreed that their parents motivated them to learn in their early years and then gave them the tools to motivate themselves through high school."4 Incidentally, what students did rely on their parents for in high school was emotional guidance and support.

This quote is an essential one: "Perfect score students would probably never have been able to develop their strong desire to succeed if their parents never took the giant leap of letting their kids have some control over their academic lives."5 If this statement is true, and I believe wholeheartedly that it is, how much more can we help our children as homeschooling parents who have direct input into our children's academic lives every single day?

I see a lot of "helicopter parenting" in the homeschool realm, where Mom is constantly hovering over her middle school and older students, constantly watching, inputting, commenting, and cajoling the student in his or her work. Constant hovering is a recipe for stunting growth in children, as evidenced in this study. Once again, how do we motivate students to learn? By giving them the tools they need, setting the expectations, and then getting out of the way.

We have seen that perfect-score students in our study are self-motivated, and this motivation is encouraged at a young age by the parents. A full 75 percent of students in the study listed either Mom or Dad or both parents as the most influential people in their lives. Isn't that cool?

Let's talk a bit about mastery learning before we completely wrap this up. It is important, as I have said many times, to set expectations for your younger children and with your older children. We have briefly discussed mastery learning, the requiring of students to achieve A-level work daily. Most of the perfect-score parents in the study, "felt that earning anything less than an A was not living up to their student's ability, and the student generally agreed."6

I feel that instilling the habit of mastery learning early on is the ticket to reaping the biggest harvest in the high school years. In the homeschool as in life, what is worth doing is worth doing well. If children learn to approach each day's assignments with the intention of thoroughly understanding what is presented, they will build more and more upon a solid foundation without the gaps that we as parents too often worry about.

Interestingly, the emphasis in SAT Perfect Score is not on curriculum at all. In other words, neither what the students study nor the materials they use served as the focal point of investigation. In the homeschool realm, we tend to stress over curriculum choices more than we should, blaming our children's shortcomings on curriculum. We decide we'll "try something else" instead of checking attitudes and making sure our students have respect for the gift of education. If there is a learning issue, it is seldom a curriculum issue.

(At one point, Dr. Fischgrung states that homeschooling may be a disadvantage in helping our students earn a perfect score on the SAT. Despite this one area of disagreement, the rest of the book is truly excellent.)

Homeschooling has the built-in potential to prepare our students to do extremely well. For example, homeschoolers are known for strong family ties, which are important, as Dr. Fischgrund's research shows (90% of perfect scoring students come from intact homes). Our students also have the time to devote to their interests once academics are finished for the day. Also, homeschooled kids tend to have strong friendships. All of these can contribute greatly to our students' success.

What we need to be cautious about, however, is our tendency as parents to get too involved in our children's education, especially in the higher grades, rather than allowing them to work independently. Parents don't realize many times that it is not just okay but advantageous to trust their students to work independently. We inadvertently zap our children's motivation by outlining every little thing for them in the course of their day.

It is so important to respect the person our child is becoming, and we do this by setting aside our goals and desires for him and allowing him to develop his own set of desires, trusting him to seek the Lord on his own. Respecting the young adult in this manner builds up the parental relationship instead of causing blockage between parent and child. Attitude truly is everything, and if we are raising our children to have a positive attitude about education (which we do in large part by having one ourselves), our children will be able to face each day with that yes-I-can attitude that plays an enormous role in how they will attack and solve problems both in education and in life itself.

While raising high-scoring students on College Board exams is not a goal of mine, high test scores in my own "laboratory" are a direct result of daily diligent study coupled with the freedom to work independently and at the student's own speed. Parents who set high expectations and who respect the ability of their children to meet those expectations will themselves be met with a much lighter load.

Part of the secret to being underwhelmed is allowing students to carry the primary burden of their education. Too many of us walk through our kids' high school years carrying burdens that are not ours to bear. The burden for my high schoolers' education rests squarely on their shoulders as they realize that they determine their future, not Mom and Dad. My husband and I offer emotional guidance and support, and we certainly pray with and for our children, but the sooner they realize that their actions now affect their lives both now and in the future, the better quality decisions they will make on a daily basis, eliminating the need for me to cajole and push and pull and—you get the idea.

I hope our foray into this amazing book will whet your appetite to read SAT Perfect Score on your own. I have barely scratched the surface of interesting tidbits found therein. The "7 Secrets to Raise Your Score" portion has excellent strategies your student can use to prepare for the SAT, that awesome and terrible rite of passage into the collegiate netherworld. SAT Perfect Score is out of print, but used copies can be found on Amazon.com.

Homeschooling really can be simplified by setting the tone for excellence via mastery learning and setting the stage for motivation by giving your students more and more control over their education via self-teaching. In my experience, these two methods are a winning combination! 


Joanne Calderwood has worked with children for 22 years, initially as a classroom teacher and most recently as a mom. She's the author of I'm the Mom; I Don't Have to Know Calculus and The Home School STUDENT Planners. Joanne speaks, consults, and cherishes being a wife to Tim, her husband of 25 years, and a mom to her eight children. Visit her at www.URtheMom.com.

Originally published in Home School Enrichment Magazine. Now, get a FREE subscription to HSE Digital by visiting www.HSEmagazine.com/digital Every issue is packed with homeschool encouragement, help, and information. Get immediate access to the current issue when you start your FREE subscription today!

1SAT Perfect Score: 7 Secrets to Raise Your Score by Tom Fischgrund, Ph.D. Published by HarperCollins 2004, pp. 2-3 
2Ibid p. 74 
3Ibid p. 65 
4Ibid p. 6 
5Ibid p. 65 
6Ibid p. 54