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The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT Audio CD – Audiobook, Unabridged
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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.
“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
Top customer reviews
This is my first exposure to the SAT so I felt completely at sea with regard to trying to guide my son. This book helps.
I know that the 2016 SAT has some changes but the vast majority of this book still holds up. It's a fascinating read. I read it all in one sitting, and I know I'll be bookmarking and color tabbing the whole book up over the next few weeks.
To the author- Thanks for giving our family a framework of action. I admire your honesty and tenacity greatly, and I certainly appreciate your willingness to be transparent throughout the project. That had to have been a vulnerable position for anyone. Amazing.
Can you tell that he scored higher than I did on the ACT? Even though neither of us has taken that test in 20+ years, it is still fodder for some rubbing-it-in fun every once in a while.
Debbie Stier is a mother to two teens when she decides to embark on her Perfect Score Project. Her son, Ethan, will soon be applying to colleges and his mediocre grades and lack of ambition won't help provide scholarships. But, a high SAT score might.
Stier begins a year of test preparation and practice as she looks for various tips and plans that may help raise her score, so she is better able to assist Ethan as he studies for his own SAT.
Her methods might be considered a bit Tiger Mother-ish by some, but Stier doesn't subject her son to even near the same level of rigor that she displays as she studies for the SAT and takes the test seven times.
Part of The Perfect Score Project is an entertaining memoir of a year in Steir's life. The other part shares great tips and lessons for parents and children about to enter the test preparation crowd.
My own children aren't in this age range yet, but the times are coming when soon I will be in need of some SAT/ACT test prep advice.
I have started attempting (and attempting is being generous) completing the SAT question of the day myself, which is plenty challenging. I am certain I won't be signing up to take the SAT/ACT/GMAT or any other test anytime soon.
It sort of burst my bubble in the middle of reading it.
After reading it, I am glad my daughter started Kumon at age 4. I also would be inclined to go straight to Advantage if she was SAT taking age.