SAT preparation helps remove nervousness

Upper School Math Teacher Carla Roach teaches seventh graders strategies for the math section of the SAT.

Each year, more than half of the USJ seventh-grade class gathers at Union University on a Saturday morning in January or February to take the SAT or ACT college entrance exam. They’ll sit alongside high school juniors and seniors who are getting ready to enter college.

The seventh graders, though, are taking the SAT and ACT through the Duke Talent Identification Program. Instead of college acceptances and scholarships at stake, the younger students are competing with other Duke-recognized students across the country. Those doing exceptionally well on the test will be invited to attend summer programs and will be earmarked by many colleges as good prospects.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Courtney Burnette, former USJ Middle School Director.

Duke University invites students who scored in the 95th percentile on identified subtests on their ERBs, which they took in the fall during sixth grade, or a 125 or higher on the Otis Lennon School Ability test.

Each year, about a week or two before the January SAT, the seventh graders gather on another Saturday morning to learn about the test.

“It’s a very casual setting,” Burnette said. She handles the writing and verbal part of the SAT, while Upper School Math Teacher Carla Roach teaches strategies about tackling the math part. “We talk to them about general guidelines and test-taking strategies. We encourage them to do their best and teach them what to expect.”

With the SAT, for example, there’s no penalty for leaving a question blank. Students will lose one-fourth of a point, however, if the answer is wrong, but they should make an educated guess if they have narrowed their answer to two possibilities.

They learn to always read the text first and then try to answer the question, rather than reading the question first and trying to find the answer in the text. They also learn that it’s okay to write in the margins of the SAT and that questions on the test get harder the further they go in a section.

“It’s a fun, laid-back morning designed to take the edge off the test,” Burnette said. “We want them to be calm and not nervous,” she said. “Taking the SAT isn’t going to hurt them. This is for the experience. They’ve already achieved something great just because they have qualified for the Duke program.”