Updated the About page (finally):
What is The Perfect Score Project?
In a nutshell, the project was initially an attempt to motivate my teenage son, Ethan, to care about the SAT enough to study hard and reach his potential.
Since I had no idea what that would entail, I started my research by subscribing to the College Board’s SAT Question-of-the-Day – which, to my surprise, I found myself enjoying. The questions were like a little puzzle first thing each morning, and a week or so in, I got hooked and, in a moment of unbridled enthusiasm, declared I was going to try to get the perfect SAT score. “Training” for the SAT became a personal challenge, like training to run the Marathon (which I did in 2004).
Just to clarify — I didn’t expect Ethan to pull off a perfect SAT score. Eventually he came up with his own goal, which we both agreed was the right one.
Not too long after I decided I would take the SAT myself, my personal project became a book project, for which I took the SAT every time it was offered in 2011 (7 times in all), the year before my son would be taking the SAT. I also took the test at 5 different testing locations. At that point the project turned into a kind of “consumer reports” on test prep and the test itself.
But the real miracle of our family SAT project, which I didn’t anticipate, wasn’t our score gains (although our score gains were hundreds of points more than the College Board reports average score gains to be after test prep). The real magic was that my teenage son morphed from a happy-go-lucky little tadpole, perfectly happy to slide by in school doing the least amount possible, into a goal-oriented and motivated young man. Ethan really learned for the first time how to work, and he gained confidence by reaching (actually, surpassing) his own score goal. He ended up using in school the lessons he learned from the SAT project, and ultimately finished high school with his highest GPA ever, post-SAT. He entered college with expectations and confidence I don’t think he would have had had we not done the family SAT project together.
The profound effect on Ethan’s study habits was the best part of the whole project (and our score gains were significant!).
Ethan, like most teenagers, had trouble seeing into the future and envisioning how a standardized test taken at age 15 might serve as an important opportunity (or liability) in his future. He was not one of the stressed-out striver kids I’d been reading about. When it came to school, Ethan was “a crammer.” He got mostly B’s with the occasional A and C thrown in for good measure.
By the time I reached adulthood, I was hard-working and goal-oriented, but my hard work mostly took place out of sight, in my office at work. Everything changed when I studied for the SAT. I was right under Ethan’s nose (or in front of it, literally). When he saw me studying and my scores increasing, it registered, probably more than he let on at the time.
Ultimately, Ethan set his own SAT score goal, which we agreed on, and mapped out a study plan, which he stuck to. His plan was methodical and long-term, lasting almost an entire year, and it required a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Ethan missed out on many Friday night parties because he’d scheduled full, timed practice SATs for Saturday mornings during the school year. In the beginning, of course, this was a bitter pill to swallow. Hanging out with mom on Friday night was not his idea of a good time.
We plotted his scores on a graph, and a few months into his plan he saw the line going in the right direction. That motivated him. He loved to study his numbers on those graphs!
Ultimately, he beat his score goal by 30 points, which was somewhat surprising to me because he’d had a few 11th hour, unexpected snafu’s (a broken “SAT hand,” an emergency root canal after the test, etc.), but the confidence he gained from reaching his goal was marked. I don’t think he’d ever accomplished a big goal like that, and I’m not sure he really believed he could.
Before the project, Ethan thought that if someone did better than he did in school, it was because they were smarter than he was. “Not true,” I’d tell him (as I’m sure most mothers would say). “They studied harder than you,” I’d tell him. After achieving his goal, Ethan started to believe that he could “do it” (whatever “it” might be) through goal-setting, mapping a methodical plan, and then following through on that plan.
The project taught Ethan he could achieve much more than he thought he could through sustained hard work. He took that work ethic with him through the rest of high school, and his GPA improved as a result. He’s also continued to employ that strategy in college.
I wrote a book about the journey called The Perfect Score Project, which was published by Harmony Books (a Division of the Crown Publishing Group) in February 2014.
You can read the prologue, listen to an audio clip, and check out the reader reviews.
The book is a hybrid: part guide to decoding (and acing) the SAT/part memoir. It’s the story of how I grew as a mother, and how my son and I managed to eke some joy out of the SAT process. It’s also a toolbox filled with tips I learned about the SAT–things I might not have thought of, such as What makes a good testing location…or The truth about brand-name SAT prep…or How to know if you should self-study, take a class, or use a tutor…
Ultimately, the book is about how I managed to motivate my teenage son to care about the SAT–and, to rescue him from…sliding by.
For press inquiries, contact: Ellen Folan 212-782-8944 [email protected]
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All of the fabulous illustrations on this site are hand painted by Jennifer Orkin Lewis.