A primary goal of learning in school is to be able to think critically (right?).
Cognitive Psychologist Daniel Willingham describes critical thinking as:
...seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth.
So can the skill of "critical thinking" be taught?
According to Willingham, decades of research point to: probably not.
Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge).
Deep background knowledge is essential to critical thinking.
With Deep Knowledge, Thinking Can Penetrate Beyond Surface Structure
This whole article is well worth the read.
So what does this all have to do with the SAT?
Start with the fact that I do believe that the SAT is in large part a test of critical thinking, and every day I become more convinced that "test prep" without a deep understanding of the content, is not the most effective route to a high score. It's like trying to build a mansion on a bed of quicksand.
All the test taking tips and shortcuts will get you just so far, but trying to shortcut that rock solid foundation is like adding curtains and paint to a straw house.
I've quoted this fine man before, but I think it bears repeating:
When parents asked me when a student should begin preparing for admissions tests, I always answered, “in kindergarten.” -- Stanley Kaplan
P.S. I signed up solo for Kumon and I LOVE IT. My gut tells me it's a great place to build a solid foundation. We shall see.
Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis