Book Review: The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier

perfect score projectI have a masters degree in college student counseling. Most people in my degree program went on to be, or at least aspired to be, college advisors. I never wanted that job. My (not-so-secret) dream is to spend a year as an admissions officer. I’m fascinated by the history of admissions and all of the different fascets that go into getting into college — grades, references, well-roundedness, and in the case of this book, SAT scores.

I didn’t take the SATs in high school. I took the ACTs, got a very average score on my first attempt, called it good, and ended up going to a totally non-competitive school that was happy to admit me with my average score. I ended up leaving that school only a month in and eventually I graduated from a small CSU (a state school in California). Because I was a transfer student, I wasn’t required to submit an SAT or ACT score; if I’d enrolled as a freshman, my high school GPA was high enough that I would have been admitted regardless of what I scored on either of those tests.

All that to say, I never had any real test anxiety about taking these admissions tests. And honestly, none of my close friends in high school did, either. Oh, they took them, but we didn’t set our sights on crazy competitive schools. And honestly, we have all done just fine for ourselves. I am so thankful that I didn’t use a test to pressure me, that I picked a school that took my ok scores as I sign I was a good fit for them. And eventually, to borrow a phrase from Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath, I got to be a big fish in a small pond. Small, average school that didn’t care about my college entrance exam scores meant I could focus on getting educated, having an amazing college experience, and getting into a grad school that was a good fit for me.

I did just that. I graduated with a BA in English with honors after seven years, I completed my masters degree in two years with a 4.0 and received a personal email from my advisor stating that I was the outstanding student who took our comprehensive exam.

Suck it, SATs.

My point is, I am so fascinated by this process because it seems so alien to me since I never needed it to be successful. In her book The Perfect Score Project, Debbie Stier writes about her son, Ethan, “a boy who was ‘happy getting B’s,’ and he had gotten an awful lot of them.” She is worried about Ethan, who she feels is unfocused when it comes to taking the SATs and in his study prep for them, so in a quest to assist him in getting the best score he can, Debbie takes the test seven times herself. Yes. Seven. The book is a result of what she’s learned and what she has to share with people.

If I’m being honest, I skimmed the second half of this book. I made it about halfway through before I had to start speed reading and skimming because I couldn’t stand it anymore. First of all, I feel like Debbie is the kind of parent no parent should be: the kind who puts ridiculous pressure on a kid to be the best. She is very concerned when he tells her, in a meeting with school counselors, that he is OKAY WITH GETTING Bs. She doesn’t like it. She thinks he has potential. Which is awesome. But you cannot push your kids to be people they aren’t, potential be damned. And a book that’s all about that makes my heart squeeze sadly for those kids.

Although the book has pointers here and there, I find that overall this is a) not really a book to read about prepping for the test. If you want test prep, you’re better off using SAT materials and tutoring to get a student into the right mindframe (and not worrying about such competitive schools to begin with!) b) regurgitation of information that’s already out there in an attempt to have a voice in the market and as an attempt to profit off of freaked out parents. It is a book written by an obsessive mom who kind of loses her mind over a ridiculous test by the end of the book and instead of being the kind of parent who calms other parents, she really just works them up over and over again. That’s what bugs me the most — this is an anxiety-producing book, not an anxiety-calming one.

Parents, you’re better off skipping the hysteria of a moment hell-bent on getting a perfect score in hopes she can get her son a perfect score and just love your kids through the process instead.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher’s Blogging for Books program in return for a fair and unbiased review. I wasn’t asked to give a positive review, just an honest one!

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