Use code COMPLETE100 to get an additional $100 OFF 2nd-12th Complete Grade Packages or COMPLETE50 for $50 OFF K-1st Grade Packages

Podcast | 26 Minutes

The Importance of Preparing for the SAT and ACT | Jean Burke

Marlin Detweiler Written by Marlin Detweiler
The Importance of Preparing for the SAT and ACT | Jean Burke

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Listen on Spotify | Watch the Video

Did you know that taking a standardized test uses an entirely different skill set from simply mastering academic subjects in school? At their core, assessments such as the ACT, SAT, and CLT are actually logic tests. It may sound silly at first to have an entire class dedicated to learning the art of test-taking, but scoring well on standardized tests often means massive scholarships – sometimes even a full ride through college and even grad school! Join us today as Jean Burke from College Prep Genius explains where these tests came from, why we have them, and most importantly, what it actually takes to ace them.

Episode Transcription

Note: This transcription may vary from the words used in the original episode for better readability.

Marlin Detweiler:

Hello again. I'm Marlin Detwiler, and you are with us on Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Today we have with us, Jean Burke. We're going to hear a little bit about Jean and the organization that she started called College Prep Genius, which prepares students for standardized testing. Well, first of all, Jean, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Jean Burke:

Well, thank you so much. I am so excited to be here.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, we're glad to have you. Tell us a little bit about yourself personally, where you are, your family and that sort of thing. And then I'll get into some questions about the organization you started.

Jean Burke:

Sure. Thank you. Well, I'm coming to you from Texas. I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I grew up– I’m a Fort Worth Girl, so I grew up here and I have been married next month in June, 40 years. I know, I was a baby when I got married, but, it was one of those arranged things.

So I have two children. My son is an attorney in Los Angeles, and my daughter is an FBI special agent in New York. So I have law and order on both coasts. And so they were homeschooled all the way through. And it was really because of them that we started the business. But it's been great, being a homeschooling mom and being on the other end of it when they were little, we went to the conferences and we did the various curriculums, very eclectic and all. And then being on this and being a speaker, it's really kind of a fun thing to be on both sides.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, that's great. Well, you started a business called College Prep Genius. And we at Veritas have begun benefiting from that in the last few months. And it is phenomenal. Tell us how it got started.

Jean Burke:

Well, thank you. And I really, really appreciate that. We're very honored and humbled to be your test prep company. So back when my son was in ninth grade, we literally had no money for college. And as you know, and as most people listening who are homeschoolers, you're generally a one-income family. And so when you're one income, there's not a lot of leftover money.

And so we did not have any money for college. And I just one day happened to be at my friend Sandy's house and she just sort of in passing said, “Did you know you can get free college off a test score?” And that sort of clicked something in my head going, “No, I did not know that. But if that's a way we can get some scholarship money, that could be our ticket to college.”

And so not really knowing anything about any of these types of tests or having any money to spend on one of those very expensive prep schools, which may or may not have worked, we did everything ourselves. We bought some books at the store. We took- there's a couple of local classes we took just to learn a few things.

And really, we went through lots and lots of practice tests just over and over again. Practice, practice, practice. Going back over what was done wrong, what was done right. Short story long, my son Josh became a National Merit Scholar, and ultimately we threw away about seven trash bags of college offers that came into my mailbox every day for about a year after his test.

And it was crazy, it was filled up like this. My mailman did not like me because he was stuffing this stuff in every day for a year.

Marlin Detweiler:

I bet it hurt his back!

Jean Burke:

Yes. Oh, totally. Some people say, I just want to get one free offer. But these were not only just college tuition, this was everything from full ride, free tuition, free room and board, free grad school money. There were offers to study abroad in other countries for free. There were honors dorms. $5,000 spending, cash. I mean, the list went on and on.

And so our decision went from how in the world are we going to pay for college to where in the world should he go because he had so many different offers. Then my daughter got scholarships and then my friends want to know, okay, how did you all do this? How did you get scholarships? How did you get free college?

And that's what I wrote a book about probably about 18 years ago and just started a little class out of my house. It was just a few homeschool friends that I knew that I kind of started teaching them some things that we'd learned, and it was very helter-skelter what we did. But we narrowed it down to what actually worked.

And that grew from just a few kids in my home to where more kids were coming, not just homeschoolers. Now we've got public school and private school kids coming. And then some of the kids were like taking the information back to their school, and their schools were calling me, asking me to come and teach at their school. And so I started doing that.

And then I had people say, “I don't live in your area, but if I get a few kids together, will you come to my city?” So I said, “All right.” And then so I started going to other cities, and then I started speaking at conferences, and then people said, “Will you come to my state and speak?”

So I started doing that. And then I've taught in most states, not every state, but a good amount of states, and I've taught in five other countries as well. So just everybody wants to know how do you not spend 20 years paying off college debt. How can you get free college? How can you get scholarship money?

We live in a situation right now where everybody's like, “SATs and ACTs are going away.” And that's actually not true at all. Colleges need a fair way to compare all students equally because a 4.0 at one school is not the same at another. Every school calculates its scores differently, and especially for homeschoolers. I mean, those colleges can look at a parent's transcripts and say, “We really don't know if you made that up or not. We don't know if you gave them a mommy grade. So we need something to validate the transcripts.” So that's why I speak at homeschool conferences and really share my information definitely with homeschoolers as well.

Marlin Detweiler:

Very good. Well, it is true that colleges have to have some objective standards and really like homeschooled students because they're good quality students as you have produced. And as you know, and you're dealing with both the school and the homeschool community, colleges are trying to figure out how to know their student before they accept them or how to know that they're a good fit.

And I have heard that interviews and an essay have become a very significant part of that. But what do you see the trajectory, I guess, of the standardized test? Let's stay on the SAT. in the ACT initially. What do you see the future of those tests being as it relates to college use of them?

Jean Burke:

Well, B.C. – before COVID, SATs and ACTs were the standard, and of course, the CLT, which I love was coming around, but then, the world shut down in 2020. We were all in house arrest. And so colleges obviously went test-optional because nobody could take a test.

Marlin Detweiler:

So I love the Texas mindset when it comes to how you would talk about things like that. Those are great terms.

Jean Burke:

It's so funny because when I go to different places, we kind of talk about in Texas how well the scamdemic did. But so what happened was a lot of the colleges were going to state test optional until probably 2024. And what happened was last year in the spring, MIT returned to the testing and they wrote a great article about not only do these tests level the playing field and they're fair, but also the fact that they help students in underserved communities because those students don't have the luxury of going to some very expensive prep school for high school.

And so that makes it fair because, as you know, a 4.0 at one school is not the same at another. One student might take really, really hard, rigorous courses and get a high GPA. And then the kid down the street goes to a really easy school and has easy teachers, and he has the same GPA as your child. So now they look the same on paper.

So there has to be some kind of numerical component that's common to all applicants. And that's why test colleges use the test score. So when MIT and Purdue started returning back, you started to see all these other colleges coming back. Now, even the schools that are still test-optional, if you want scholarship money, you still have to send your test scores in because that's how colleges get their rankings nationally. The higher the score, the more scholarship money you're going to get because of the rankings going up higher and higher. And they can also attract students who can pay full price when they’re a higher-ranking school. But as far as the future, as it stands, by the end of the freshman year, over 25 students are already dropped out of college.

By the end of the sophomore year, 50% have dropped out. And kind of when it's all said and done, only about one-third of students who graduate, who enroll will graduate college and graduate in four years. So there's a lot of dropout. That means two-thirds of students are dropping out. And I think the two main reasons are certainly finances.

But the other main reason is the workload. Students aren’t prepared to get to college and spend four or 5, 6 hours of studying per class per day. And so so when you open up this test-optional, anybody in the world can come, then the dropout rate is going to go up exponentially. And I think that they're going to take a step back and go, whoa, now we have to report all this data about our schools and it looks pretty bad.

So we need a way to determine success in college. And what colleges do is they save years and years and years of data so that, let's say a student comes into a college to interview and they have, let's say, a 1350 S.A.T. So what the colleges can do is they can look at years and years of data of the kids who scored somewhere around that same number and see how many of them actually graduated, how many of them actually graduated with honors, how many of them actually became that supporting alumni.

And so it really does bode well because these are really critical thinking tests. Like the military, the military is not looking for cadets. They're looking for officers. And colleges aren't looking for applicants. They're looking for supporting alumni. They play the long game. And so it's a business. And so when they see students who have really good test scores, what it means for them is that that student is a really good critical thinker, which is a necessary component for them to do well in college.

And so I don't see testing going away. And even the test-optional schools before COVID, about 15% or more specialized. But most of the students did their test scores in any way just to make sure they can get some money so they can maybe get in. But if you need money, that's a whole different ball game.

Marlin Detweiler:

So what you do is offer a prep service, these kinds of things. I'm 66 and graduated high school in ‘74, and back then all we did was sign up, took the test. No preparation, I don't remember, there may have been a little bit of in-class preparation for math, but that was it. And I'm not even sure I'm remembering that accurately.

Now, it's become not only a business but a business that has objective success points. Tell us about the success that you have had, because I think from what I'm hearing, I haven't covered this ahead with you, so maybe putting you on the spot, but tell me what you produce in the results from people that take your course.

Jean Burke:

Sure. And you are absolutely right. Back in the day, what your counselor told you is show up on Saturday with your pencil, and you did, and that's all you knew. And so if you were kind of logically minded, naturally, you tend to score better than the other students.

Marlin Detweiler:

I actually did better on standardized testing than I did with my GPA because it was a test as opposed to really working every day, which I was much more involved with athletics at that point.

Jean Burke:

Oh, exactly. The reason why we have so many issues with students who don't do well, we have students who bomb SATs and ACTs all the time. Valedictorians are in my classroom all the time, top 10%. That's what I get. Smart kids. But the problem is test taking is a different skill set that is not taught in schools.

That's why I'm really biased toward homeschoolers because I want them to create a test prep class, not only because your kids are to be tested all their life, not just getting to college and getting scholarship money. But if you're going to go on to post-grad school, law school, med school, or at your job someday, nurses and engineers tell me all the time that they are tested probably every six months for certification.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yes, all liscening, certifications have some form of test-taking.

Jean Burke:

Yeah, absolutely. And they're not testing you on your degree. They can't because everybody at the company probably has different ages, different backgrounds, different states they’re from. And so they have to test you on the only thing that everyone has in common, and that is your critical thinking skills. That's what these tests are made up of. And so that's why you can make it as a homeschool, you can make it as an elective on your transcript.

But for our students going through our program, probably our average student goes up around 250 points. Some have gone up 600, 700 points, and you might get some that go up 50 or 100. It's what you put into it. And you're only going to retain about 10% of what you hear the first time.

Once you go through the program, obviously, you have to go back through, we have an online ecourse that the kids can go back through. They have a whole year of access to that. But every time you go through it, you're going to pick up something that you missed the first time. Because the thing about it is you would just like athletics or piano, guitar.

You don't just play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star one time, then the next week you're playing Beethoven. So you have to go back and learn the patterns and the shortcuts. You get good, and then you get fast. It's going to always be accuracy before speed because you can answer the questions in 30 seconds or less.

Every question is designed that way, but you have to learn how to do it and you have to recognize the recurring patterns that are in every test. Standardized tests have standardized questions and standardized answers. And so since there are no neutral question types, students cannot study for these tests. It's not about learning about your math. More math concepts, thousands of vocabulary words.

That's a waste of time. You study the test itself, the patterns that they use because they are limited by their design. And you can know that. And then the thing about it is people say, Well, and I've had this, people say, “Well, aren't you teaching kids to cheat?” I'm thinking, “What? Let's define cheating. Cheating is if I gave you the answers ahead of time, that's cheating. But if you take a history test, you're going to study history. If you're going to take a geography test, you study geography. If you're going to take a logic test, which is what the SATs, ACTs, and CLTs are, then you're going to study the logical pattern.” So it's sadly something that most people aren't being taught. It's to their detriment.

And it becomes this endless cycle because most counselors and most of them literally are overwhelmed and their job isn't so much to get you into college. It's really to get you out of high school.

And the thing about it is they give the kids a lot of wrong information, like “Wait until the end of your junior year to start thinking about test prep.” And now at that point, your students are so maxed out with school, homework, part-time jobs, sports, friends, church. They are so out of time. And so what happens is these kids don't get the best possible score.

And so they might barely get into a college, maybe not even their dream college. And then they're stuck with this cycle of debt for years and years because they didn't have this high score that was high enough to get a scholarship. So they end up paying out all these loans. And so it's very unfortunate.

So I try to break that cycle. I've got 6th and 7th graders who do our program. And it's the sooner you start, the more time you have to improve because you can't get time back.

Marlin Detweiler:

Yeah, that's right. So the short of it is, don't wait until you finish your junior year before you start preparing. You’ve got to get a couple of years on it to really get the system, understand the system to benefit from knowing how to take the test. The education comes from your schooling for the content elements, but you want to learn how to take the test too. And that's what you're really training people to do. Makes perfect sense to me.

I have a question, I have never really understood, and I think you are a really good person to answer this. The two primary tests that exist in the broader marketplace, and we're going to talk about the CLT in just a moment – What is the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

Who should take which? Should everybody take both?

Jean Burke:

Really good question. So 20 years ago, the states up north and down south and on both coasts, they mainly promoted the SAT and more of the middle states promoted the act. Well, that has totally shifted because now every single college takes either one. 100% of colleges will take the SAT and the ACT, does not matter which one you take, and if they prefer one over the other, they'll convert the score.

So a 1340 SAT is the same as a 29 of the ACT. Now what happens is, unfortunately, some people still don't promote that, but it doesn't matter which one your child takes, they literally are about 99% the same test. The same strategies work on both. When the SAT was redesigned back in 2016, once David Coleman took over for the College Board, they actually hired ACT writers to rewrite the test.

So you're taking a test that was written by the same type of people, even though they're different companies. The thing about it is, you don't have to take them both because you just take one or the other. The reason why there's a discrepancy is there's what's called the one-third rule. One-third of students do a little better on the SAT and one-third do a little bit better on the act, and one-third do about the same.

And the reason why that is, is because it becomes more mental. The SAT. has two math sections, so a lot of students will say, “I'm not that good math, so I don't want to do the SAT.” Some students say, “Well, I'm terrible in science, so I don't want to do the ACT.” Well, these tests have nothing to do with science.

You don't have to have one iota of scientific knowledge because it's just a logic test. It's just like reading on the SAT. The math, you don't have to be a math genius. It's not even a math test. It's a logic test using math as the medium. Don't get me wrong, you need to know your basic math, adding and subtracting, and some geometry and algebra.

But many of my students who are really, really good in math often say, “My math score is always my lowest, and I love math. I'm good at it.” It's not because they're not good at math it's because they only give you about a minute per question. But if you spend two, maybe even 3 minutes on a math problem, you're just burning the clock up. So you have to know the fast ways to answer every question.

Marlin Detweiler:

That's great. So the SAT/ACT doesn't matter. Whichever one you like best, go for it. Tell us about the CLT. What CLT stands for, how it came about, and how it works into what you're doing.

Jean Burke:

So the CLT, the Classic Learning Test, has probably been around maybe eight years now created by Jeremy Tate. And when they first came on the scene, he wanted a better option than the SAT and the ACT, which tend to have a race to the bottom. You know, they're always dumbing it down. And the CLT came on the scene with more base and more Western traditions. You've got passages from C.S. Lewis and Charles Dickens and something that lot kids are more familiar with, and it ended up being about 2 hours instead of three.

And it was remotely proctored. You had to do it on your own device, your own laptop. Now, when they first came out, everybody said, hey, there's no way you can compete against the big guys. SATs been around since the 1920s. ACT since the 1950s, sort of a David and Goliath story, but nobody foresaw 2020 when the whole world shut down and the SATs and ACTs were canceled.

The CLT was already remotely proctored, so every single college accepted it, if they knew about it, and their enrollment went up 5,000%. So it's crazy. So now people definitely know about the CLT. I was promoting it, I met Jeremy Tate at one of my conferences and I was sitting there, I was speaking to a huge crowd of people, and I think I was talking about how to ace the SAT and ACT.

And I see him sit in the back row and I thought to myself, “This guy's a spy.” Because I get those in my class. I get a lot of people coming in to hear what I have to say. And I thought to myself, He's too old to be a high school student, but he's too young to have high school kids.

And after when he came up to me and he asked me, “Do you know about the CLT? Have you heard this?” I said, “No, never heard of it.” And he shared with me about it. And I said, “Hey, I would love to promote the CLT. I'm not loyal to the SAT or ACT. I'm loyal to whatever gets the kids into college and gets them a scholarship. That's all I'm loyal to. And so I started promoting it to all my audience. I just would add a slide and I would talk about the CLT. And I think Jeremy had said at the very, very beginning that pretty much all the homeschoolers came just because of me, because I was out there talking about it.

And ultimately, they partnered with me to become their official test prep partner, which is great. A lot of my kids are in the top 1% on the CLT because, again, it is still a logic test.

Marlin Detweiler:

And does the same course that you teach, teach SAT, ACT, and CLT preparation?

Jean Burke:

It does. Now, I do have a specific CLT program that I've already had written for a while. I just haven’t ever put it out because it's not on digital and I want the kids to practice like they play. So I want to put it on digital, but that's what we're working on.

But yeah, because of the crossover information, the strategies, the recurring patterns, a lot of my kids have got free law school, pre-med school, pre-grad school, including my own kids, but just my son was offered tons of free ride offers across the nation based on his LSAT score.

But any standardized test company, they basically all do the same thing. They have one objective, indisputable answer and several distractors. And what you learn and that's why test taking is such a skill itself. What did you learn that you can apply to so many tests? Pretty much all tests.

Marlin Detweiler:

I believe that. As I said, I was always a pretty good test taker and probably a better test taker than a student. And I think it's because math has been a strength in thinking logically and that makes perfect sense to me. You're in the middle of doing a course for our online school, Veritas Scholars Academy, and I don't get feedback on a week-by-week basis.

I heard it's going very well, and we're going to do this again in the future. So I want people listening to this to know that there'll be opportunities to look for, for their students to learn through your system, presumably from you or your team about these courses and preparation. So we're excited about that. Tell us where you think the CLT is going in terms of acceptance and in terms of importance for classically educated students like ours.

Jean Burke:

Oh, well, you know what? It's taking the world by storm, and I think nobody expected it to go anywhere. I think there's been other attempts over the years to bring in a third test. But Jeremy did it right. The fact that more people are learning about it, and more people heard about it during COVID because of the fact that every college that knew about it accepted it, I think right now they're probably adding two or three colleges every single week.

I get emails every week. I'm on their mailing list. “Hey, we welcome this new college. We welcome this new college.” And they are also getting the CLT into many, many schools. So, for example, not only classical schools, but also they're doing younger assessments like the CLT-8 can be used for assessments. Like kids that go into a private school, you have to test into it.

But now they're going to even the younger grades. And I think it's going to probably be one of those things that besides taking us, Stanford or Iowa, you'll be able to take one of the lower CLTs for kids. Because there are states that do require some sort of testing at the end of the year for homeschoolers. In Texas, we don't have to do anything, but there are definitely policies that are more moderate or even higher regulations.

And some of the other states require some kind of “show me something that you've done as a homeschooler at the end of the year.” And so the CLT is working its way into getting that as well.

So, I definitely don't see the CLT going away.I think it's definitely a really good test for kids. And I like what Jeremy says. He says, “They're not afraid to put out something with Augustine in it or even Nietzsche, because if we don't teach our kids to be a good critical thinker now when they go into college or the world or the military or the mission field or wherever they end up going, post-graduation or high school, they're going to be challenged.”

Their faith is going to be challenged. Everything they believe is going to be challenged. And if you don't know how to stand up for yourself, to be able to logically figure out what's being asked and how to respond correctly, you can very well fall into that category of students who just kind of fall away and just get caught up in the traps or get deceived by things that are going on in this world.

Marlin Detweiler:


Jean Burke:

Definitely. And, critical thinking is not taught in schools. For some students who are more logically minded, it's more intuitive to them like yourself. But then you also have what's called the real followers who aren't necessarily the best test takers, or they think they're not. But logic is not a personality trait. Anybody can train their mind and their brain to think more logically and become a great test taker.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, that's, as you know, in classical education, we think in terms of the Trivium grammar dialectic and rhetoric, and dialectic or logic is exactly what we mean in this stage of learning. And we teach logic and classical educators teach logic as a discipline, which is teaching critical thinking skills. And so it's connecting to that, but it's not teaching the test in the way that you do.

And that's why I think you're being so successful. We find it so important for our students to join classes like yours. So thank you. One last question. You mentioned that the CLT jumped out in a big way during COVID because they were already digital. The SATs, as I understand it, are making a move into the digital space.

And I don't know what all that means, but what do you see the future being as far as SATs and ACTs and taking tests online?

Jean Burke:

When the world shut down, and the SAT could not roll out a digital program quickly because I mean, it takes obviously years to do that. The CLT had their own growing pains when they first started, and they had issues as well. But they worked through them.

We remember that digital world all the way around. I think it brings a whole set of other problems, as in cheating. But there's always been cheating going on. So I think there's going to be some workarounds and some learning curves is going to happen for the SAT. And the ACT has actually has been digital and paper for a couple of years now.

I think most people still prefer the paper. I think it's just another way to move into the tech age that we're in. I don't like it. And I'll tell you, I like pencil and paper personally because I'm a visual person. I like to use my pencil to draw things and underline and work out things. But there's still ways that you can do that while you're while you do that online.

But, the GRE has been on the computer for a minute. I think my daughter took the GRE years and years ago, and it was on the computer then. So it was going to be a natural progression anyways. We knew it was going to happen eventually. I think COVID just kind of forced the SAT right into it. And I feel like probably SAT saw what the CLT was doing, and they were only 2 hours long versus 3 hours. So now the SAT is going to be 2 hours. It's sort of that natural progression that's going to happen. I wish everything was on paper. That's just me because I like that. But I think that it's the nature of the beast, the time that we're living in.

Marlin Detweiler:

Well, Jean Burke, thank you. College Prep Genius is doing wonderful work. We're very grateful for what you're doing at Veritas. Folks, if you haven't looked into this, you really should. This is a way to, first of all, prepare your kids for the college application process. And it is a demonstrated success for better test scores and more scholarship money, which is something that's obviously important to all of us. Jean, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jean Burke:

Thanks, Marlin, I appreciate it.

Marlin Detweiler:

Folks, you've been listening to Veritas Vox, the voice of classical Christian education. Thanks for joining us.