Author: Tonianne Bellomo
Even as recent as three years ago, parents would insist that their children take Latin in high school or even middle school in order to prepare for the SAT vocabulary section. Barring the fact that not many schools offer Latin anymore, it really wasn’t as practical as one would think. Now, the need for Latin in terms of SAT prep is almost obsolete: there is no full vocabulary section on the new SAT. All questions about vocabulary ask the students to define words in context, a skill students were probably last taught in the third grade.
So how does one prepare his or her child for such an endeavor?
By making the students read more.
Let’s put it into a familiar context: athletics. Everyone knows athletes have to work hard at what they do. There are the skill building and technique workshops; there are the long video watching sessions where the athlete gets to relive all of his or her triumphs and failures while the coach breaks it down; and there are the conditioning practices that every athlete loathes.
Skill building and technique workshops are the tutoring sessions.
Video sessions are your sessions after a practice test when the tutor will go over all the wrong answers.
Conditioning practices are the full-length practice tests.
So what’s reading have to do with this? Remember how parents made their children learn Latin years before even starting SAT prep? That’s preseason training. Reading is the new preseason training.
Reading helps prepare a student in a multitude of ways for the SAT and ACT. For one, it helps build up a student’s critical thinking skills. By being forced to pull facts together and close read texts, students are critically engaged with cerebral material that will start exercising their brains. Critical thinking is integral to the entire test; the students need it on the math, reading, and grammar sections, so it behooves them to nurture that part of their brains.
Reading also helps the students learn how to define words in context, a major Achilles Heel in the world of SAT and ACT prep. Students today seem to have a much harder time defining words within a passage than students in the past had. It probably comes down to a lack of critical engagement with older texts from writers such as Dickens, Rousseau, and even Joyce. Because older texts used older language, students were compelled to glean meaning from the text itself. That built up the skill set that they then used on these standardized tests. By having your child read more, especially more classic texts, he or she will then grow more accustomed to breaking down context clues.
Finally, reading builds up a student’s ability to focus for longer periods of time; it builds up a student’s stamina. One of the biggest obstacles a student faces when taking the SAT or ACT is being able to focus for over three hours. Just like any muscle working for an extended period of time, the student’s brain gets tired. If an athlete wants to build stamina for a game, he’ll probably go running for an hour or so every day, depending on his need. This will at least get him somewhat prepared for practices and game day. Reading a bit every day works the brain, a muscle, and gets it ready to focus and think critically about different disciplines for those three to four hours.
In short, you can forget the Latin for SAT prep and start making your student read more. It doesn’t have to be long; even an extra thirty minutes a day will help. But make sure it’s at their level of reading. They shouldn’t be reading gossip blogs or short blurbs on a website and counting that as meaningful reading. They should pick short stories, nonfiction history books, long form articles in The New York Times or The Atlantic, and, yes, novels. These will contain the language and style of writing that will be found on the SAT and ACT and will be the most worthwhile reading experiences for them.