Q&A with SAT Expert Dr. Gary Gruber
Before many of us were even old enough to take the SAT, Dr. Gary Gruber was already helping students improve their test scores. 30 years later, Dr. Gruber remains one of the foremost authorities on SAT & ACT test preparation, publishing more than 30 test prep books that have sold over 7 million copies.
Dr. Gruber’s test prep books include:
Gruber’s Complete SAT Guide
Gruber’s Complete ACT Guide 2010
Gruber’s SAT 2400
Gruber’s SAT Word Master
Gruber’s Complete SAT Reading Workbook
Gruber’s Complete SAT Writing Workbook
Gruber’s Complete SAT Math Workbook
Dr. Gruber was kind enough to answer a few questions about his long experience in test prep, his thoughts about the new SAT, and his recommendations for tutors and students.
How did you get started in test prep? Do you still personally train students?
When in fifth grade I received a 90IQ (below average) on an IQ Test, my father who was a High School teacher at the time, was concerned so he was able to get me an IQ test hoping I could study it and increase my score. However, when I looked at the test, I was so fascinated at what the questions were trying to assess, I started to figure out what strategies and thinking could have been used for the questions and saw interesting patterns of what the test-maker was trying to test. I increased my IQ to 126 and then to 150. The initial experience of scoring so low on a first IQ test and branded as “dull minded”actually developed my fascination and research with standardized tests and I was determined to afford all other students my knowledge and experience so they would show their true potential as I did. So I constantly write books, newspaper and magazine articles and columns, software, and personally teach students and teachers.
The College Board revamped the SAT in 2005. How has the new SAT changed from the old SAT? Do you think the new SAT is harder or easier than the old SAT?
The College Board had taken out the Analogies and Quantitative Comparisons and had included and Essay section. In the Reading section shorter reading passages and questions relating to “double-reading passages” were added. The new math section was enhanced and added items from third year college preparatory math.
What is the ‘Gruber method’ and how does it differ from other test prep methods?
The unique aspect of my method is that I provide a mechanism and process where the student internalizes the use of strategies and thinking skills and then reinforce those methods so that students can answer questions on the SAT or ACT without panic or brain wracking. This is actually a “fun” process. The Gruber method focuses on the student’s patterns of thinking and how the student should best answer the questions. I have also developed a nationally syndicated test which is the only one of its kind and which actually tracks a student’s thinking approach for the SAT (and ACT) and directs the student to exactly what strategies are necessary for them to learn. Instead of just learning how to solve one problem at a time, if you learn a Gruber strategy you can that problem and thousands of other problems.
How do you ensure that the practice questions in your books are accurate reflections of what students will see on the actual tests?
There are two processes. For the first, I am constantly critically analyzing all the current questions and patterns on the actual tests. The second process is based on the fact that I am in directly in touch with the research development teams for any new items or methods used in the questions on any upcoming test, so I am probably the only one besides the actual SAT or ACT people that knows exactly what is being tested and why it is being tested on the SAT or what will be tested on current and upcoming tests.
What percentage of test prep study time should students spend learning vocabulary words?
The student should not spend too much time on this—perhaps 4 hours at most. The time should be invested in learning the Important Prefixes and Roots I have developed and the 3 Vocabulary Strategies. The student might also want to learn the 291 words and their opposites, which I have developed based on research of 100’s of SAT’s.
What advice can you give to students suffering from test anxiety?
I find when the student learns specific strategies they see how a strategy can be used for a multitude of questions and when they see a question on an actual SAT that uses the strategy it reinforces a confidence in them and reduces the panic. They can also treat the SAT as a game by using my strategic approaches and the panic is also reduced as a result.
SAT vs. ACT: How should students decide which test to take?
The correlation happens to be very high for both tests in that if you score well on one you will score equivalently well on the other. However, the ACT is more memory oriented than the SAT. The material is about the same, for example, there is Grammar on both tests. Math is about the same except the ACT is less strategically oriented. There is Reading on both tests and they test about the same things. However on the ACT there is a whole section on scientific data interpretation (The SAT has some questions on this topic in the Math). Fortunately you don’t have to know the science subject matter on the ACT. If you are more prone to memory, I would take the ACT. If you are more prone to strategizing or you like puzzles, I would take the SAT. In any event, I would check with the Schools that you are applying to and find out which test they prefer.
What is the single most important piece of advice you can give to students taking the SAT or ACT?
Learn some specific strategies which can be found in my books. This will let you think mechanically without wracking your brains. When answering the questions, don’t concentrate or panic about finding the answer. Try to extract something in the question which is curious and/or which will lead you to a next step in the question. You will through this “processing” the question, enable you to get an answer.
What is the single most important piece of advice you can give to tutors teaching the SAT or ACT?
Make sure that you learn the specific strategies and teach students those strategies using many different questions which employ the strategy, so the student will see variations on how that strategy is used.
What recommendations can you give to tutors who want to use your books in their test prep programs?
In Sections VI and VII in the INTRODUCTION to the SAT book there are programs for 4 hours and longer for studying for the SAT. You can use this information to create a program for teaching the student.
In Sections III and IV in the INTRODUCTION to the ACT book there are programs for 4 hours and longer for studying for the ACT. You can use this information to create a program for teaching the student.
Always try to reinforce the strategic approach, where the student can hone and internalize strategies so that they can use them for multitudes of questions.
Thank you Dr. Gruber!