College Prep Genius: The No Brainer Way to SAT Success is a SAT prep course with three primary components: online instructional videos, a text, and a workbook. Once enrolled in the course, students have free online access to the College Prep Genius ecourse Homework Guide which serves as a course guide and answer key. Students will also need to use the free, full-length tests available at The College Board's website. Instructions as to where to find these are included.
This course was updated in 2016 to reflect the latest version of the SAT exam.
Students can study independently or they might be enrolled in a local group class. Either way, each student needs his or her own text and workbook. These are available in print or digital formats.
The online video course has twelve lessons, each running about 45 minutes. The first lesson is an introduction to the SAT. Three lessons focus on reading, and four each concentrate on math and writing respectively. Lessons show strategies and sample problems on the screen while presenter Jean Burk explains them step-by-step. Even though the lessons are not entertaining, they present the material professionally, clearly, and thoroughly. As students watch, they should occasionally pause the video while they practice what they have just learned in their workbooks.
The text adds information not on the videos about broader test taking strategy that applies to both the PSAT and SAT, information about scholarships, and instructions and forms for keeping a journal on test prep efforts. In an appendix, the text also has “My Motivation Test,” a form of learning style assessment with application worksheets for students to use once they’ve determined how they are motivated. This helps them create a test prep strategy most suitable for each student. Even though the text repeats some of the content of the videos, the repetition in this format helps reinforce the learning, and the additional information is so important that students really should read it.
Burk’s strategy includes memorizing acronyms that help students tackle the various types of questions. For example, the “COAT” strategy to use for passage-based reading questions stands for “ Completely irrelevant, Obscure information, Additional information,” and “ Totally contradictory information”— students identify responses that fit these descriptions to eliminate incorrect responses. Acronyms are taught throughout the lessons and there is an “acronym overview” at the end of the fourth video for easy review. I suspect that some students will find the acronyms easier to memorize and use than others. Nevertheless, students will learn about the various types of questions and answers and how to respond most efficiently.
The goal is to significantly increase student scores on the SAT with practice and mastery of skills that apply to this particular test as well as the PSAT, even down to how and when to fill in the bubble grid with answers. Interestingly, while Burk urges students to work on expanding their vocabulary, she acknowledges that students are unlikely to be able to master all of the potential words that they will encounter. So she teaches critical thinking strategies for tackling vocabulary questions on the test. In addition, an appendix in the text has lists of prefixes, suffixes, and root words with definitions that student should memorize.
Similarly, another appendix has 29 pages with charts with math terms and their definitions. A column to the right allows space for students to write an example to make sure they have mastered each of these. To the far right is a check-off box to mark when students are confident they know each one. This is a very concise way for students to review math concepts for that section of the test.
Burk strongly encourages students to take an official practice exam before starting the course as well as while taking the course. This gives them a baseline to track their improvement. Students should also register for and take the SAT (as well as the PSAT) a number of times to achieve their best score and try to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.
The College Prep Genius ecourse Homework Guide is written for either the parent/teacher or for the student completing the course through independent study. Students in a class group still need the detailed instructions at the beginning of each lesson. These instructions parallel each lesson with assignments for specific pages to read in the College Prep Genius text as well as workbook pages to completed. The Homework Guide also lists test pages to complete either in The Official SAT Study Guide (2016 or later edition) or on an online version of the test. (Note that the first video lesson tells students they need the book, but it became optional after the first video was already recorded.) In addition, the Homework Guide tells the teacher or student to grade problems and then write results in particular places to track progress and identify challenging topics. I recommend printing out this 99-page guide since it will be used frequently. The downloadable Journal for Success (also free to access if you select the Comprehensive version of the course) can be used along with the Homework Guide to keep detailed track of student progress, but similar journaling pages are included in Part VII of the text as well. The Homework Guide makes it easy to coordinate all of the course components.
A series of optional VocabCafe SAT vocabulary prep books are available. (Some or all of these are included in the Expanded and Comprehensive options described below.) Each book teaches about 300 vocabulary words within the context of a novella. For example, within one novella, Highway to Hollywood, one sentence reads, "Her date was late; this inconsiderate solecism would not be easily forgiven." The bolded and italicized words such as solecism are defined at the bottom of the page so that students can learn their meanings within the context of a story. These words are listed at the end of each chapter for review, and a glossary at the back of the book has all of the words and their definitions. While the VocabCafe books come as ebooks with two versions of the course, they can also be purchased as printed books.
The College Prep Genius website shows three options for purchasing the course: Fundamental, Expanded, and Comprehensive. All options include one year of access to the ecourse videos. Along with course access, all three versions include digital versions of the textbook and the workbook, plus access to the Homework Guide. The Expanded option adds 15 Secrets to Free College PDF and three of the six VocabCafe ebooks. The Comprehensive option includes all of this plus Journal for Success, the other three VocabCafe ebooks, and High School Prep Genius. You can add printed books to any option at extra cost if you wish.
College Prep Genius is obviously the product of many years of experience. It is well thought out and thorough. Burk claims that many of her students have increased their scores by hundreds of points, which generally translates into increased scholarship assistance or even a free ride to cover the cost of college. I expect that many students will profit from the motivation of working through this course in a group setting, and it is excellent for that purpose. (Check the College Prep Genius website for group courses in your area.) But I’m even more impressed with the course for use for independent study. It’s great to have an option that gives students so many of the benefits of a group class yet allows them to complete the course independently and on their own schedule. This has to be one of the best options for SAT test preparation if mastering test-taking strategies is your primary goal.