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Preparing for the sats: Read on
You could knock me out, place me on a deserted island, take away my sense of time, and I bet I could still predict the exact moment parents and students begin to panic about the SATs. Every year—just after CXC exams end—I am flooded with calls about the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which is the entrance exam for most US-based universities. I don’t know why people ask me for advice because they don’t listen to it.
Still, here goes: students who want to do well on SATs need to read, read, read—25 books a year from the time they hit Form 1. The College Board that runs the US exam says students should be able to reach that goal if they’re average readers who read half an hour a day. This is the amount of reading students need to do to build the reading speed, comprehension and analytical skills needed to ace the exam and do well in US universities.
Below is a list of suggested reading that will build those skills. There’s something here for everyone: avid readers who appreciate classics, students who prefer science, history, geography or sports. Washington Square by Henry James—In this novel, Catherine Sloper, a rich, young woman, tries to convince her father to allow her to marry a questionable character. The arguments for and against the proposed marriage change every few pages, making this a study in developing support for an argument.
Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes by Gerald N Callahan—Even reluctant readers can’t help but be curious about this book. According to the author, every year more than 2,000 children are born in the US with an intersex condition. The author argues that sexuality is not as clear-cut as we once thought. This provocative book will help students decide on whether or not they buy Callahan’s theory and evidence. Science students will relish this book.
You may have to order this book online. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot—Every biology and chemistry student knows about HeLa cells used for scientific research. Skloot’s brilliant piece of non-fiction is the fascinating story of the poor woman who provided those cells for science after her death from an aggressive form of cancer.
Henrietta Lacks’ cells are alive today and this book claims if all the cells that came from her and were used in research were piled on top of each other, they’d weigh over 50 million metric tons. Lacks’ cells have been used for research on cancer, viruses, in vitro fertilisation, cloning, gene mapping and more while Lacks’ poor family were kept in the dark about this humble woman’s contribution to science.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell—Any of Gladwell’s books are a fascinating read and a study in constructing support for a point of view. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell examines the moment that an ordinary product becomes a trend-setter in popular culture.
The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey—You will have to order this book online, but it’s well worth the read for history and geography students. The author weaves the story of an infamous map thief who plundered priceless old maps from dusty libraries into the story of the history of maps and how mapmaking shaped the world. Each chapter is a model for a perfectly-written essay.
Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand—Horse lovers, sports enthusiasts and readers who enjoy history will appreciate this non-fiction book that teaches invaluable lessons about perseverance. Seabiscuit is the story of a horse and three people—all deemed losers in one way or another by society. How this unlikely trio became winners is a heart-warming, motivational story that has become one of my favourite books.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson—Following someone’s life—like Jobs’—and understanding how he became famous is always an alluring read. Jobs’ offbeat life is interesting enough, but the real appeal in this biography is understanding his uncanny ability to visualise, produce and market technology that all young people use today. Jobs’ contribution to technology for personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing are remarkable, to put it mildly.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle—Good mysteries are a great way to develop comprehension and analytical skills. Books with movie tie-ins can be a lead-in to literature like Sherlock Holmes. Books by John Grisham, James Rollins and Michael Crichton are a good start for reluctant readers.
Brother Man by Roger Mais—This important West Indian novel, which is the first novel about a Rastafarian, will challenge readers to put together a story like a puzzle. There is a Macmillan study companion for this novel, Beka Lamb, The Humming-Bird Tree, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl and Wide Sargasso Sea so students can develop vocabulary, writing and analytical skills. Practice questions help students understand how to answer questions on exams like the SAT. Preparing for the SAT begins with reading, and this is the time to do it.
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