Six months or more ago, it occurred to me that at some point I would be asked to coach a student for the SAT II math subject tests. So I went down to my local big box book store and purchased a copy of the Barron's study guide for the SAT Math 2 test. I took one of the (four) practice tests and scored badly. My score was in the 600's, which some students would be happy with, but that wasn't going to cut it for a coach. I studied and worked exercises. When I took the next practice test, I did better - maybe around 720 - but still not great. At this point, I noticed the flaws in the Barron's book which I described when I reviewed it. (You can read the review here.)
I then purchased a Princeton Review practice book and discovered that the practice tests were much easier. I was scoring around 790 on the Princeton Review tests which I figured was good enough for coaching, but I was annoyed that I couldn't quite get that 800. One of my issues was speed. I was having trouble finishing the test. I suspected that part of the problem was that I am not quite as familiar with my TI-84 calculator as the teenagers seem to be. Having to peer at the device through bifocals doesn't help. They need to make a large print version of that thing.
I made the mistake of sharing all of this with my kid when he was home from college for Christmas break. He was openly contemptuous (the brat!) He assured me that not only did he spend the last 10 minutes of the test time twiddling his thumbs (he scored an 800) but that he didn't even turn his calculator ON. I pointed out that the SAT Math 2 test requires you to find Arcsines to the nearest hundredth. He then admitted that, ok, he turned the calculator on ONCE. Or maybe twice. But only to find the Arcsine to the nearest hundredth.
So fine. Either I'm a total idiot, or ....DANG. My kid must be a complete genius.
Then a month or so ago I stumbled across The Official SAT Subject Tests in Mathematics Levels 1 and 2 published by none other than the College Board! Woohoo! I bought the book and took the first Math 2 practice test. I scored an 800. I twiddled my thumbs for the last 10 minutes of the allotted time. I turned my calculator on ONCE. Or maybe twice. But only to find the Arcsine to the nearest hundredth. Hmm.
The College Board book was published in 2010 - the same year my kid took the test. Has the test gotten more difficult since then? Or is it possible that the practice books published by Barron's and The Princeton Review have that little resemblance to the actual test?
To find out, I have signed up to take the genuine exam on May 4, 2013. My high school kid and I will travel to the testing site together - he'll be taking his first SAT. Wish us luck. I'll let you know how it all turns out.