At SSA, we have continued to improve our program with each passing summer. The following elements represent a number of the SAT teaching innovations we’ve discovered help improve comprehension, scores, and general enthusiasm.
Every student is unique; each has a different need; although the strategies are broad and inclusive enough to apply to every student, tweaking their application is central to their success.
Our program is designed to give each student unprecedented individualized attention. We call it the “adaptive classroom”: Every class has at least two teachers. This high teacher-to-student ratio allows instructors to split the class into small groups for each lesson, flexibly reorganizing their classes to reflect the fact that students may be better or worse on different concepts, test subjects, or strategies.
Team teaching means our teachers have more energy, are better able to manage their classrooms, and have the time and resources to design new lessons and games and constantly take students for private one-on-one lessons.
Our students never have to sit through classroom lessons that aren’t specific to their needs, and each student, regardless of starting score, gets highly personalized instruction.
On day two of camp, each student is placed on a coaching team with a teacher as his or her “coach.” Each student meets 1-on-1 with her coach each week, after having received practice test results, to discuss her progress and set realistic goals for the next week. The coaching teams also work together in a variety of contexts: coaching teams compete in daily content- or strategy-based games; meet each night for drill sessions; and compete in nightly SAT games designed to test and teach certain key SAT concepts.
Dynamic and Comprehensive Curricula
SAT camp is camp, not a classroom: We design it to be dynamic and endeavor to teach and motivate students through competitions, games, and interactive activities.
Game-ification—the transformation of lessons into interactive games—is a core tenet of our program. We have created numerous interactive group SAT games that reinforce and teach concepts and strategies. Students play many of these games in the classroom and end each day with larger-scale, cumulative SAT games that test what they’ve learned so far. Games include debate tournaments that reinforce essay structure, grammar concept reviews that test difficult concepts in rapid-fire succession, and reading comprehension exercises in which teams have to help each other to understand difficult passages.
Clear weekly metrics
Students take five proctored practice tests from official College Board administrations over our three-week program. We seek constant feedback about how effective our SAT program is for our students. As with most SAT programs, our best metric for improvement consists of weekly practice tests, proctored to create the feel of a real testing environment. We go well beyond such testing, however.
As students master each strategy and concept necessary for the SAT, they put these to work and gain skills as test-takers through the five practice tests, all in meticulously simulated test-taking environments - Alyssa, our Director, takes the SAT the three times per year that adults are permitted to sit for the SAT, each time in a different high school and/or city, to get a feel for kids' actual test-taking environments.
Practice tests are graded immediately to give students constant feedback, and each student receives a detailed test report with concepts/question types s/he/they got right and wrong, as well as a sense of how s/he/they has improved since the last test. In concert with their coaches, students work to develop individually tailored strategies each week.
A Well-Oiled Schedule
Our SAT teaching schedule has been developed meticulously over the past few years to maximize SAT scores and efficiency and minimize stress. We have no homework assignments: we feel that proctored, interactive assignments are more effective, and we place such assignments throughout the day.
The lack of homework means that free time and other exciting program elements evade the typical, stressful shadow of homework—the sense that there is always something else that a student should be doing. We seek to teach students to balance work and play and to value more than just academic achievement. In addition to the lack of homework, we break up the day with strategic study breaks, vocab games, and interactive activities to keep the students engaged and emphasize that we see it as their and our collective responsibility to keep the program exciting.
Our teachers are extremely qualified to teach the SATs: They’ve all demonstrated test prep competency by scoring in the top percentiles on a competitive high-school entrance exam; they’ve all attended elite undergraduate or graduate institutions; and each teacher participates in an extensive, two-week specialized Socratic Summer Academy training with our camp director and senior staff before camp starts to master strategies, content, and teaching techniques.
Beyond these technical qualifications, the fundamental quality we look for in a teacher is a real desire to be a mentor or counselor. The job of a SSA instructor doesn’t end at 3pm: Our teachers find students who need extra help and meet with them during free times. They give students advice about college and school. Outside of the SAT, they play sports with kids, prepare campfire skits, and accompany students on the piano for talent shows.
What makes a SSA teacher extraordinary is not just her ability to teach the SAT -- every SAT program should be able to say that; it’s her ability to ensure that every SSA camper goes home not just with an improved score, but with extraordinary summer memories.
Camp is a community--built not just around SAT improvement, but weekly campfires, group activities, and fun. Every student has access to Colgate University’s full athletic facilities--a pool, two gyms, basketball courts, tennis courts, and hiking trails. This sense of community enriches our camp and also helps us to motivate and inspire our students. As one student noted in her testimonial, “You bond with a lot of kids, you bond with the teachers, and you have friends encouraging you, other friends excited about their scores. It made you want to do better.”
Our Record of Excellence
SSA is currently entering its ninth summer. Over nine summers, we have helped hundreds of students improve hundreds of points on the SAT -- both the old and the new. In that time, we have refined our curricula, improved our teaching methods, and learned how better to create a thriving community of learners. In other words, we've been doing this for a long time, and our experience has made us better and better at it.