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Dedicated to my mother for devoting her love and time to homeschooling my three siblings and me. Your patience and love is without bounds.
Homeschooling with Ultimate Freedom
Homeschoolers have freedom without parallel. To mimic a public or private school curriculum is a waste of this freedom. This guide takes advantage of our freedom and outlines the exact academic curriculum for a homeschool student to get accepted into medical school. It tells the key to reading at age three, achieving near perfect SAT scores, taking college classes at age fourteen and acquiring acceptance letters to Ivy League colleges. Believe it or not, this is not that difficult. It does not require studying eight hours a day. It requires less. I had much more free time than my public school friends. My three younger siblings also had more free time. I am now a medical student at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons. My siblings and I all read at age three, scored in the top percentiles on the SAT and received near perfect grades in college. We were all students of the same homeschool curriculum and strategy. This guide contains the key strategies, curricula and timelines for any homeschool student to achieve academic superiority.
Below is the most basic timeline of your student’s major academic achievements. Although I begin at age three, a student can hop on board at any age. The same overall strategy applies-just the timeline will probably be different.
Age (yrs) Milestone
14 Enroll in college classes
15 Score above 98th percentile on SAT I; Score above 700 on SAT IIs; Calculus
16 – 17 Acceptance to “Most Competitive” College
22 Acceptance to Ivy League medical school (if you want)
Insight #1: “Give Your Child a Superior Mind”
This is the title of a book by the author Siegfried Engelmann. Get it. The book is no longer in print, but used copies can be found on Amazon.com. It is a real gem with timeless teachings. Use this book as a guide to begin educating your child at age three.
To teach your child how to read, use the book Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. Your child will be reading before his or her fourth birthday.
Bottom Line: Beginning at age three, teach the following books to your young prodigy.
Title: Give Your Child a Superior Mind
Authors: Siegfried and Therese Engelmann
Pub Date: 1981
Title: Teach your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Authors: Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, Elaine Bruner
Pub Date: 1986
Insight #2: Reading and Arithmetic (that’s it)
Reading and arithmetic should consume 80% of your student’s education from age three to thirteen. Wait! But what about history, political science, biology, chemistry and the other subjects? Surely these subjects MUST be important because they make up most of a public or private school curriculum. Wrong! Not to say that these subjects are unimportant, but, rather, a student with a strong reading comprehension and math background can learn them very quickly. In other words, it is very easy to “catch up” in these subjects.
I enrolled at Providence College with almost no history background. I knew some details about the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World Wars, but that was about it. One of the cornerstone courses at Providence College is the Development of Western Civilization (“Civ”). It is a five-credit course that is taken every semester during freshman and sophomore year. The course covers history, philosophy, literature and religion from the Ancient Greeks to the fall of the Berlin Wall. With virtually no background in Civ, I finished the Honors course series with all A’s. I am not bragging and am not gifted. It just turns out that studying these “fluff” subjects all throughout childhood is a waste of time. Of course, if your student finds these subjects interesting, then encourage further study! Especially, since it still involves reading. My youngest brother loves reading history and would spend hours reading the encyclopedia. However, it was crucial that this passion did not detract from his math studies. It didn’t and he scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT I.
Strong math background = 4.00 college GPA in physics, chemistry and calculus
Just as reading is key for success in the fluff subjects, math is essential for success in chemistry, physics and, well, more math. I have seen hundreds of pre-med students get poor grades in chemistry, physics and calculus because of bad math backgrounds. Math is the backbone of these problem-solving subjects.
While a strong reader can stroll into her first college history class with almost no background knowledge and ace the course, she probably could NOT do the same in the pre-medical courses. Stay with me though, because she will catch up and be a superstar in the sciences by age sixteen (this will be addressed in Part II, Insight #8). With this strategy, I graduated from Providence College with a 4.0 GPA in the pre-medical sciences. Similarly, all of my siblings have won awards for consistently stellar performances in the sciences.
Bottom Line: From age three to thirteen, 80% of your student’s education should be focused on reading and math. The remaining 20% can be spent studying other subjects with a bias toward the sciences.
Insight #3: Math… Math… and more Math
I cannot stress enough the importance of a strong math background. The following books are what I used for my math education and are highly recommended. The Saxon math books are very challenging and repetitive. This is a bear to many students, but it engrains a math foundation surpassed by few. Below is a timeline of what math books to use at different ages:
Age (yrs) Math Level book Series, Author
4-8 Math Workbooks 1 – 16 Developmental Math Workbooks, George Saad, PhD
8 Math 76 Saxon Publishers, John Saxon
9 Algebra ½
10 – 11 Algebra 1
12 Algebra 2
13 – 14 Advanced Mathematics
15 – 16 Calculus
Developmental Math Workbooks: Completion of these books will require active participation of the homeschooling parent. They are merely workbooks, so you must teach the student how to perform the basic math functions (i.e. adding, division, fractions, decimals).
Saxon Math books: Each lesson in the Saxon Math books teaches the math function that is applied in the respective problem set. With the exception of Math 76 (which should be studied at an accelerated pace), the student should complete at least one lesson a day. As the student progresses through Algebra ½, she should require less and less of the homeschooling parent’s time. By the time the student completes Algebra ½, she should be learning most of the lessons herself with only occasional help.
Bottom Line: Math is probably the most important subject in the student’s education and should be the primary focus every school day.
Insight #4: Reading (lots of it)
A strong reading background is just as important as a strong math background. The books that I previously mentioned in Insight #1 by the author Siegfried Engelmann are highly recommended by my parents. However, my parents believe that the reading program that we used subsequently was not very good. The program we used from ages five to eight years old was Total Reading. Although this program worked okay for us, I am not going to fully endorse it as I do the other books/programs. I recommend doing some online research and finding a reading program that is better.
When the student is about ten years old, I recommend starting the book series Vocabulary from Classical Roots, by Nancy and Norma Fifer. This program teaches vocabulary by focusing on the Latin and Greek roots common to many words. It is key to know these roots for the SAT I verbal section. The SAT I verbal section includes an enormous variety of obscure and difficult words. To memorize the dictionary in order to do well in this section of the SAT I is unnecessary (and not worth your time). When I took the SAT, vocabulary was tested in sentence completions and analogies. Out of about forty vocabulary questions on the SAT, I only got one wrong. The SAT does not require the student to know the exact definition of each word; rather, he only needs to have a basic understanding of each word’s meaning. Vocabulary from Classical Roots gave me the ability to deduce the meanings of words that I had never seen before and, in turn, do well on the SAT verbal section.
In addition to the above reading curricula, the student should continually read, read, read. Reading difficult material will be immensely helpful for improving his reading comprehension. Throughout my youth, I read many classical books (i.e. Odyssey, War and Peace, Treasure Island).
Bottom Line: Your student should read as much as possible (both leisurely and as part of a program). Total Reading is the reading program that my family used from ages five to eight; however, I recommend researching another reading program that will give even better results. At around age ten, the student should begin learning vocabulary from Vocabulary from Classical Roots. Below is the info on the aforementioned books.
Title: Total Reading
Author: Total Reading, Inc.
Pub. Date: New editions available
Title: Vocabulary from Classical Roots
Author: Nancy Fifer and Norma Fifer
Pub. Date: 1998
Insight #5: A strong reader can quickly become a great writer
Until I took a college writing class at age sixteen, I had never written a paper longer than two double spaced pages. My first writing composition class was a freshman writing seminar at Kalamazoo College. I received an A- in the class, but it was probably the most challenging college class I ever took. In addition to my reading program, one of the only other parts of my homeschool curriculum that I would recommend changing is the writing component. There is no need for your student to write papers every day, but he probably should have written at least a dozen research papers before college. So, he should start writing papers periodically at age fourteen and will then easily obtain A’s in college writing classes. By the time I was a sophomore at Providence College, my research, creative writing and philosophy papers were used as examples in the class. My siblings all received A’s in their college writing classes as well.
While writing becomes a large part of the student’s curriculum at age fourteen, the mechanics of writing (i.e. grammar) should be learned before then. Starting at age eleven, I used the Easy Grammar 56 Workbook to learn advanced grammar. At age twelve, I began studying the next book in the series, Easy Grammar Plus Workbook.
Bottom Line: A strong reader has the potential to be a great writer. The student should start writing papers on a regular basis at age fourteen. To learn the mechanics of writing, he should study the following workbooks starting at age eleven and finishing by age fourteen.
Title: Easy Grammar Workbook 56
Author: Wanda Phillips
Pub. Date: 1994
Title: Easy Grammar Plus Workbook
Author: Wanda Phillips
Pub. Date: 2007
Insight #6: Age fourteen: Major curricula change
If you paid attention to the ages in the previous insights, it would seem that there is a ton of “catching up” to do beginning at age fourteen. It may seem like your student doesn’t have enough hours in a day to do it all. This is not true. Between ages thirteen and fourteen, the student’s homeschool curriculum changes drastically. For example, no longer is math the primary focus. Actually, only about 10% of the student’s time should be spent on Saxon math. By age thirteen, the student should already have a math background that will guarantee a near perfect math SAT score and easy A’s in college calculus. So, the majority of time that was previously spent on math will now be used for SAT preparation. Similarly, the time previously spent reading will now be converted to the study of chemistry. Finally, the amount of writing will more than double at this age. Below is an approximate schedule showing this curricula re-focus.
Age (yrs) Subject Study Time Allotment (%)
3-13 Math 40
Physical and natural sciences 10
history, geography, etc. 5
14 Math (Saxon) 10
Reading Comprehension 10
SAT Prep 30
Bottom Line: The intensity of your student’s study will increase a little bit at age fourteen. However, your student’s new studies (i.e. SAT prep, college chemistry, writing) should all come easy with his superior math and reading skills.
Insight #7: SAT, 99th percentile at age fifteen
So your homeschool student is now fourteen years old and will be applying to college in a couple of years. Public and private school students will go to their counselor’s office and request a copy of their official high school transcripts mailed to Harvard, MIT, etc. They will have the school seal on the envelope and counselor’s signature on the transcript. On the other hand, you will go to your word processor program on the family computer, write what you think resembles a high school transcript and then sign it as the student’s counselor. No doubt, Harvard might weigh your student’s 4.0 GPA transcript a bit differently than his private or public school peers. So, acing the SAT is probably the biggest step toward validating your student’s home education. I challenge any admissions committee member to look at your student’s 2200 (~99th percentile) score on the SAT I and say that his home education was inferior. On the other hand, if you submit his 4.0 GPA transcripts alongside a 1700 SAT score, admission committees are probably not going to be impressed.
So, the SAT is a really big deal. How and when does the student start preparing for it? He should take a couple of SAT I practice tests at age twelve. Then, tailor the studies a bit based on the results. If his reading comprehension score is below 550, start buying reading comprehension books. If his math score is low, well I’m actually not sure what to do. It is very hard to catch up in math. That’s why it is extremely important to primarily focus on math up to this age. I guarantee if you follow this guide, you will be impressed with your student’s math SAT score. All three of my siblings and myself scored above 700 on this section (actually, we have a combined average score of 760, which is about two wrong on the whole math section).
The student should plan on taking the SAT I at age fifteen. This means start preparing at age fourteen. It may take up to a year of SAT preparation before the student is ready to ace the test. Don’t worry though. This studying is not useless once the test is over. Rather, it will just further hone his math, reading and writing skills.
Regarding the mechanics of studying for the SAT, make WRITTEN goals. Write out a timeline leading up to your test date and set goals along the way. Below is an example goal chart started six months before the test date. Take note how it is front-loaded (greater score increases early on) because it is harder to gain extra points as your score climbs.
Date Math Section Verbal Section Writing Section
01/01/2011 660 620 640
02/01/2011 700 660 680
03/01/2011 730 690 710
04/01/2011 750 710 730
05/01/2011 770 720 740
06/01/2011 790 730 750
06/03/2011 *Test Date
SAT Prep books: Kaplan and Princeton’s SAT preparation books are solid. Also, CollegeBoard’s SAT guide is crucial. This book contains actual SAT I exams from past test dates and are perfect for measuring your progress. However, don’t take too many of these valuable tests too soon. Otherwise, the student will run out of official practice tests months before the test date.
Bottom Line: The student’s strong math and reading background will enable her to achieve a SAT I score in the 98th to 99th Percentile at age fifteen (two years before your peers will take the test). Set written goals and milestones for the SAT I dating at least four to six months before the test date. Buy the following SAT prep books:
• Most recent editions of Kaplan SAT Math, Verbal and Writing workbooks
• Most recent editions of Princeton Review SAT Math, Verbal and Writing workbooks
• Most recent edition of CollegeBoard’s SAT study guide
Insight #8: SAT IIs (required for most of the Ivies)
The SAT IIs are required for admission into most of the top colleges, especially for homeschool applicants. Again, these tests validate your student’s homeschool education. Most of the top schools require about three SAT IIs. There are close to a dozen different SAT II subject tests ranging from math and chemistry to foreign languages and history. Of course, pick the subject tests that are your student’s strengths. If you followed this guide, then her most favorable SAT II subject tests are probably Math (IC or IIC), Chemistry and literature. Reading and math are her strengths, so the math and literature subject tests should be easy. Chemistry should also be easy. She will have taken two college chemistry classes before taking the chemistry subject test (to be discussed in Insight #9). Since the literature and math SAT IIs are similar to the verbal and math sections of the SAT I, she should probably take the SAT IIs within three months of taking the SAT I.
Bottom Line: The student should take the SAT IIs that will show her strengths. Unless your student was a history buff, or studied a foreign language, she will probably do best on the Math, literature and Chemistry subject tests. By age sixteen, she should be armed with SAT I and SAT II scores that are well above 700 in each respective section.
Insight #9: College classes at age fourteen
No matter the college, one of the most daunting pre-medical “screener” classes is chemistry. I’ve seen hundreds of bushytailed pre-medical students have their medical professional dreams crushed in college chemistry. More often than not, these students take general chemistry for the first time while juggling other difficult classes such as general biology and calculus. Additionally, these students are still making the psychological adjustment from high school to college. No doubt they struggle in general chemistry! For homeschool students, it is incredibly easy to avoid this unforgiving situation. Your student should simply take general chemistry at a local college while still homeschooling (commonly called “dual enrollment”). Firstly, the student will have a smooth transition to the college atmosphere. Secondly, the student will only have one college class to focus on instead of four to five classes. Thirdly, he can re-take these classes for easy A’s at his Ivy League university.
Let me talk for a couple minutes about this last strategic step-re-taking classes. My family’s approach was to take the difficult pre-medical science classes (General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, General Biology and General Physics) at a local college that was only ranked “competitive” according to Barron’s Guide to Colleges. We called this college our “high school college.” Then, we would apply as freshman to higher-powered colleges, which we called our “real college.” In other words, our high school college served the same purpose as AP classes for public school students. We would then re-take these pre-medical science classes at our real college to achieve easy A’s. It is important to note that the grades at our high school college still count when applying to medical school. Medical schools factor every college class the applicant ever takes into his college GPA. Also, the grades from your student’s high school college will be sent to his real college when he applies. So, it is important to pick a high school college that isn’t too challenging. You want him to get A’s in these classes.
In addition to general chemistry, before enrolling in your real college, you should also take college biology, physics, organic chemistry and a writing class. (To save money on these classes, apply to your high school college to become a full time student. By age fifteen, you will already have stellar SAT scores and should get a scholarship.) By age sixteen to seventeen, your student will be ready to ace any pre-medical science class that Harvard or MIT has to offer.
Below is the following timeline of the classes I took:
Age (yrs) Semester Classes
14 Fall Introductory Chemistry
15 Winter General Chemistry I
15 Fall Organic Chemistry I
16 Winter General Chemistry II
16 Fall General Biology I, Freshman Writing Seminar
17 Winter General Physics II, General Biology II
Bottom Line: Starting at age fourteen, begin taking college classes. For the first year, until the SATs are completed, take one class a semester, preferably the general chemistries (so that you can take organic chemistry the next semester). Then, complete at least the first semester of the other pre-medical sciences and a writing class by age seventeen.
Insight #10: Applying to the Ivies
You will apply to the top school of your choice one year early and your application should look something like this:
• 2200 on SAT I
• 790 on SAT II Chemistry
• 740 on SAT II Math
• 720 on SAT II literature
• 4.0 GPA in General Chemistry I and II, Organic Chemistry I,
General Biology I and II, General Physics I
• Extracurriculars (following this guide, you should have plenty of time to play
sports, enter spelling bees, volunteer in the community, etc.)