Vicki Wood took her first SAT at age 32, 10 years after she finished college. Surrounded by nervous teenagers and clutching her sharpened No. 2 pencil, she completed the test as a personal challenge and a possible career move — and she hasn’t looked back.
“There’s a science to it,” says Wood, an SAT prep course developer and instructor, of the dreaded college entrance exam. “If you had told me at 16 that I’d be taking the SAT over and over, I would have laughed. But once you get into these tests, you realize they’re puzzles. So it becomes fun to unlock the puzzle and see the pattern and help students do the same.”
The former Michigan resident — who only took the ACT back when she was applying to colleges — was working as a customer service representative for PowerScore Test Preparation when she decided to secretly study for the SAT in hopes of becoming a PowerScore teacher. Though she scored in the top 7 percent of test takers that spring, PowerScore teachers need to score in the top 1 percent.
Wood was crushed, and confessed to her boss what she’d been doing on the side. Her employer encouraged her to retake the test after first completing a PowerScore SAT prep course. She did, and three months later scored in the 99th percentile.
“I’ve been writing and teaching SAT and ACT prep courses and books ever since,” says Wood, who continues to take the test periodically and is currently 40 points shy of a perfect score. “I’ve had a perfect score in reading and a perfect score in writing, but one missed question in math.”
Her quest for perfection is about to get even tougher.
“They’re changing the test on us in March, starting to align it more with Common Core,” Wood says. “So we’re cautioning students to take the ACT this year instead of the SAT. We don’t want anybody to be the College Board’s guinea pig.”
Enrollment is indeed down for Wood’s PowerScore SAT prep courses, which makes her happy.
“There are significant changes to the test, the new one will be much more difficult, more curriculum-based,” she says. “The current SAT is more critical thinking-based, which is why the classes are so successful, because we can teach the students the patterns to use to answer them.”
She and her colleagues at PowerScore have a handful of new practice tests and will continue to gather more as they’re released, analyzing the revamped test to come up with an overhauled prep course.
Wood, who estimates she’s taught about 600 Lowcountry students how to do their best on the SAT and ACT, guarantees at least a 300-point increase in test scores after her courses, and has seen as high as a 590-point increase from one Hilton Head student.
She has also written a Hilton Head-based children’s book, “Dinner on the Docks,” about a cat anticipating her feast from shrimp season’s opening day. She didn’t manage much marketing for the book, as she and her husband have been busy with their 5-year-old twins.
“I started them early with SAT vocabulary words,” she says with a laugh. But alas, the vocabulary portion of the test is also changing. “I guess it was all for naught,” she says.