Q&A with Debbie Stier on The Perfect Score Project
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.