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The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT Hardcover – February 25, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (February 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307956679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307956675
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Q&A with Debbie Stier on The Perfect Score Project

Mary C. Neal

Debbie Stier is a single mother of two teenagers. Her book publishing career has spanned two decades, most of it spent in PR where she was responsible for publicizing dozens of iconic books ranging from The Notebook to Marley and Me. Frequently covered by the media, including MediaBistro, The New York Observer and New York Magazine, Debbie regularly speaks on topics pertaining to social media and technology as well as, most recently, standardized testing.

Ethan Gumin graduated from Fordham Prep in 2013. An avid outdoorsman, Ethan attends Loyola University Maryland where he is in the Outdoor Wilderness Leadership program and is pursuing his academic interests in business and economics.

Debbie: Do you think the project had value or do you think your mom was completely insane to take the SATs 7 times?

Ethan: Looking back, I can see that the project was a great idea because I wouldn’t have done nearly as well as I did if you hadn’t taken the test all those times before me. I learned so much more from you than if I’d gone through the Blue Book on my own.

Debbie: What do you think the most important thing you learned from my mistakes was?

Ethan: You have to have all the basic skills down before you try to learn any tricks because without a solid base of math and grammar, you won’t be able to answer the questions fast enough on the test.

Debbie: How do you think the project affected our relationship?

Ethan: I think it made our relationship stronger because we spent so much time together. Studying for the SAT is very time consuming!

Debbie: Do you think that you are a better student because of the project?

Ethan: Definitely. I learned how to set goals and work hard. The test taught me the value of hard work and what it takes to achieve a goal.

Ethan: Has the project changed the way you tackle everyday “tests?”

Debbie: Yes! I don’t use the word ‘perfect’ as loosely and liberally as I did before the project started. I now realize it’s beneficial to pause before you set a goal and think first, rather than jump in with both feet and your eyes closed, like I did. It also changed how I parent. Before the project, I assumed my kids would follow along with whatever I said. I thought if I said, ‘Let’s go to Kumon and do worksheets,’ you guys would follow along simply because I was your beloved mother. About halfway into the project, I learned you might not follow, which shocked me. I learned (the hard way) that our relationship had to have deeper roots before I could count on you to follow me into any math trenches. Looking back, I can see that the strengthening of our relationship needed to happen before I tried to rope you into test prep. But ultimately, the beautiful lesson I learned was that investing in our relationship allowed us to have an SAT experience that took on deeper meaning than just a test score – and our scores improved a lot!

Ethan: Do you think Daisy is benefiting at all from the work we did together?

Debbie: I do! I’m doing “test prep” very differently with Daisy. I’m having her go back and shore up the fundamentals of math, grammar and reading before we start with the official “test prep.” I have her read the New York Times every day and we go over all the vocabulary words she doesn’t know, and we discuss the articles, starting with the main idea, which is a great exercise for the SAT reading section.

Ethan: What is the one thing all parents should know about the SAT?

Debbie: The SAT does not have to be a reviled rite of passage. Everyone loves to loathe the test, but it can be an opportunity for bonding. It’s the last big milestone before your child leaves for college – why not use it as an opportunity to connect? A shared experience – even “the SAT” – can create a powerful bond and rewards that go way deeper than a test score.

Debbie: What’s the one thing you think parents need to know about the SAT?

Ethan: Start studying early! Obviously, there are exceptions - students who will barely need to – but most of us need to start early. There’s a lot of material to get down – and your endurance needs to be honed and strengthened. If you start early, it will be a lot less stressful than trying to cram.

Ethan: Complete this sentence: The SAT is to parenting as ___ is to ___.

Debbie: I could answer this question in one of two ways: “The SAT is to parenting as root canal is to a dentist.“ Or, I could reframe: “The SAT is to parenting as soccer is to a soccer mom.” I prefer the latter.

Ethan: What’s the one lesson you hope people will take away from The Perfect Score Project?

Debbie: I hope people see that the SAT can be an opportunity to have a positive experience together. (I know no one is going to believe that, but trust me, if I did it, anyone can). Ethan and I turned it into a lot of fun. We’d nudge each other during TV shows if we heard “SAT words,” and it was fun having my 16-year-old son teach me math. Not to mention, it’s a great exercise for learning to explain a problem to someone else. Sharing the experience of the SAT can be a wonderful journey … together.


The Perfect Score Project is the perfect book for parenting in the age of anxiety.  What begins with a mother’s worry about her teenage son quickly shifts to the moving story of a woman discovering the roots of her own imperfections. By year’s end, you’re cheering Debbie on as she and her son sit side-by-side, helping each other score higher.  She has scripted the unimaginable: SAT—The Love Story.”
--Bruce Feiler, New York Times columnist and bestselling author of The Secrets of Happy Families 

“I loved this book. Debbie Stier’s story of her year-long project answers every question about the SAT—and somehow turns this information into a lively and engaging adventure.  I’m inspired to follow her advice (my poor fourteen-year-old has no idea).  Parents especially will find this account packed with invaluable insights, from a funny, endearing friend who gives the inside scoop on how to deal with the nightmare.”
--Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home

“This book isn’t what you might think.  More than just a guide to succeeding at ‘the test,’ it’s a primer for succeeding at life.  Stier deftly connects success, mindset, and habit.  The Perfect Score Project is the book every parent should read before diving into SAT prep.”
--Shawn Achor, New York Times bestselling author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage

“What Debbie shows us in The Perfect Score is the possibility of strengthening our relationships with our children and empathizing with them in a time when anxiety often pulls us apart. I can so easily imagine using this book with my sons when it’s their turn to take the SAT as a way to ground us through the process.”
--Rosalind Wiseman, New York Times bestselling author of Masterminds & Wingmen and Queen Bees & Wannabees 
“With The Perfect Score Project, Debbie Stier has accomplished the equivalent of moving mountains: she has made taking the SAT a fascinating, irresistible adventure.  The Perfect Score Project will have teens, their parents, high school guidance counselors, SAT prep centers and colleges reconsidering everything they think they know about the SAT and the world of test prep.  Debbie’s entertaining, pioneering and eye-opening book is a page turner that will grab you from the beginning.  And it may just inspire you to follow her lead and strive for a perfect score too.” 
--Emily McKhann, co-founder of The Motherhood and author of Living with the End in Mind
"Vince Lombardi, the greatest football coach of all time, famously said, 'If we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.' He could have been describing Debbie Stier's unforgettable chase for a perfect SAT score. Her tips, lessons, and no-nonsense insights are insatiably useful. Her story is genuinely moving--not just a woman's obsession with a test, but a mother's love for her son. A perfect 800 in my book!"
--William C. Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company and author of Practically Radical
“Debbie Stier is a break-the-mold person. She is far ahead of the curve in seeing the future and finding ways to articulate it. She sees how things fit together—the essence of creativity—long before others do.  So it’s no surprise that The Perfect Score Project is a break-the-mold book. Whereas the college application process, and in particular SAT preparation, fills parents and students with anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed, Debbie’s experiences and hard-won insights offer much needed clarity.”
--Ellen Galinsky, President, Families and Work Institute, and author of Mind in the Making
“I love this book more than I can say. Debbie Stier’s account will speak to anyone, like myself, who has spent their life trying to prove wrong the scores they achieved years ago, but it will especially speak to parents of boys who require special handling but for whom there is no proper instruction manual.  Debbie may have started out wanting to crack the SAT code, but she’s achieved so much more. This book is about motivation, and hard work, and parenting, but, above all, it's about forming the deepest bonds of family connection. So many parents will recognize themselves in Debbie’s amazing story -- they'll see themselves in her, and they'll see their children in her children. Sometimes a cigar is a just a cigar, and sometimes an SAT is just an SAT; but here the test Debbie took over and over and over again becomes a metaphor: she chooses to do the hardest work of her life, and it pays off in a thousand different ways.”
--Laura Zigman, author of the national bestseller Animal Husbandry

“Debbie Stier's saga of descending into SAT test frenzy is jam-packed with truly sound advice for conquering test fatigue, understanding superscoring, overcoming performance anxiety and perfecting the ‘fine art of bubbling.’ Enjoy Debbie's cautionary tale of obsession and taking seven SATS -- but don't try this at home!"
--Christine VanDeVelde, coauthor of College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step

More About the Author

Debbie Stier is the author of the forthcoming book, The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT. A veteran of the book publishing industry, she was responsible for publicizing dozens of iconic books ranging from The Notebook to Marley and Me. Frequently covered by the media, including MediaBistro, New York Observor and New York Magazine, Debbie regularly speaks on topic pertaining to social media and technology as well as, most recently, standardized testing. She lives with her son and daughter in New York City, but you can find her writing daily advice about education and SAT test prep at

Customer Reviews

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See all 66 customer reviews
This book kept me up at night!
J. D. Fegler
Ms. Stier makes it clear that it wasn't her goal to pressure her son to get a 2400 perfect score on the SAT.
Z Hayes
The author has a humorous writing style that makes this book an easy read.
Patricia D. Brown

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Kristin Hiemstra on February 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Schools care a lot about SAT scores - way more then they lead you to believe at the information sessions.

I work at a school where we typically have over 20 National Merit Finalists each year and many students get admitted to top tier universities. To be a National Merit Finalist, a student must test in the 99.5% percentile on the PSAT which is administered in the fall of junior year. Many go on to make perfect scores on the SAT and SAT II tests.I have made a habit of interviewing these students to find out how they studied.

Debbie Stier nails their method. They did exactly what she says to do. If you want a top score, follow her advice to the letter.

Debbie also provides a ton of free resources, many of which I never knew about. Who knew there were so many legitimate websites available to help you learn random math at all hours of the night?

My only wish is that Debbie would have gone more into depth about her parenting experiences. This book was probably not the best venue for that discussion since it is about the SAT but I, as a parent, I would love to see her write another on that topic.

This book has caused me to do two things: 1. enroll my daughter in Kumon to take advantage of the "long run way" and 2. make 'family influence' a priority over 'friend influence.' (Most of my high flyers have exceptionally strong parental influence.)
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By nevina VINE VOICE on July 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was great! Written by a mom helping her less than focused son prepare for his SAT exam. She decides to check out a few popular prep methods and courses to find out which ones help make up the most likely " perfect score recipe". In the course of her project she takes the SAT exam 7 times in one year, each time using a different method of preparation. She writes about her experiences with each exam period, about what works and what doesn't, she includes much helpful research and helpful exam facts and tips. She also writes about her relationship with her son and her efforts to motivate him to care about his future in such a funny and moving way that I'm sure many moms of teenage boys will relate to. This book has potentially saved me quite a bit of money. Before reading it I was pretty resigned to sending my son to some kind of expensive SAT course. I'm not entirely ruling that out yet but it was definitely not an effective prep method. I know I'll be referring to this book often in the next few years.(less) [edit
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful By N. B. Kennedy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Debbie Stier took the dreaded SAT as an adult. Not once, not twice -- but seven times! Debbie's teens were hurtling toward their date with this fearsome test when she embarked on a quest to uncover the most effective ways to study for it. What better way than to be your own guinea pig!

Debbie's enthusiasm will have you rooting for her and her kids all the way. She's a cheerful test taker and a creative student. At one point, she makes her kitchen into a "wall sheet" of SAT scribbles, actually writing in a rainbow of brightly colored markers on her cabinet doors. One of her chapters is titled, "An Absolutely Fabulous Month of Math." I'd never be able to put the words "fabulous" and "math" together!

The author makes a great guide for those of us in her shoes. She dives into the SAT test prep industry, sampling everything from homemade flash cards to an elite (and expensive) tutor. She tells us which books and methods to ditch, and which to sink our money into. I used an entire pad of sticky notes marking pages with advice I intend to follow!

How does all of Debbie's hard work pay off? Read the book to find out. Regardless of the actual outcome, Debbie was delighted to discover that studying together with her children, her son Ethan in particular, brought them closer together as a family. "In the end, what the project brought to my life was... happy bonding with my children," she says. (Although, lest you think her endeavor was continually blessed with big, yellow smiley faces, she admits her children weren't always as enthused as she was.)

Having just read Malcolm Gladwell's
...Read more ›
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Emily Glickman VINE VOICE on January 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Seemingly taking helicopter parenting to outrageous new heights, Debbie Stier took the SAT seven times and studied along with her high school aged son. In doing so, she made herself an expert in testing and test prep and wrote a readable, honest, enjoyable and intelligent book. Readers benefit by learning useful and interesting facts about testing and test prep history, while at the same time gaining insights about today's testing culture and tips about how to wisely navigate it. While the title suggests that Stier was egging her son toward a perfect score, in fact the content of this book is more an honest look at a loving relationship between a contemporary parent and her high school aged son.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By E. M. Bristol VINE VOICE on February 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Question 1. A mother who takes the SAT seven times and does exhaustive research into which test-taking strategies work in order to help her two children perform their best on their own SATs, then writes a book could be best described as:

a) A helicopter parent whose kids may need therapy in the future
b) Someone with a lot of intellectual curiosity
c) Someone who is performing an invaluable service to other parents facing the same situation
d) Someone who wants to go back and redo her youth.
e) All of the above

Unlike the real SAT, there is no one right answer to that question, but by the time you finish reading Debbie Stier's "The Perfect Score Project," you may have a different opinion than the one you originally had. Yes, Stier did indeed embark on an in-depth exploration of the SAT programs available (as did her friend Catherine who also had a teenage son, and whose story is included) and did take the SAT multiple times at different schools under widely varying conditions. The result is this book.

She begins with a question that must plague parents of all kinds of kids: why are they so hard to motivate when it comes to this test? My guess is that, regardless of how bright they are, they've just spent the entire day at school, followed by perhaps a part-time job, sports and other extracurriculars, then with more homework waiting in the wings, studying for the SAT is not a welcome priority. And who, teen or adult, really has four spare consecutive hours to devote to taking a practice test, which is the only way you can really mimic the actual SATs? Also, unless they're homeschooled, they've likely taken other standardized tests before and may have aced those without studying. So how much harder can the SAT be?
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