Knowing the score on the SAT Authority: Lisa Exler guest-edited a book on improving your numbers. She has 1,600 credentials.

Catching Up With ...

November 03, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Lisa Exler is doing the stuff successful first-time authors do -- book tours, interviews with reporters and talk-show hosts, TV appearances.

She's been to Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, New York and Atlanta. In September, she made a quick trip to her hometown, signing books for her Pikesville friends, neighbors and relatives at Gordon's Booksellers in the Rotunda.

What propelled an 18-year-old college freshman into the media spotlight? Her SAT score.

As a senior last year at Beth Tfiloh School in Baltimore, Lisa Exler scored 1,600, the highest possible, on the Scholastic Assessment Test. At the time, she attributed her success to an underground SAT guide called "Up Your Score." Not long afterward, the editors at Workman Publishing Co., the New York publisher of the book, asked Exler to rewrite the guide in her image. And she did.

The experience has been "kind of cool," says Exler, who is young enough to be excited about a book tour but old enough to know that the questions asked by TV interviewers were provided by her publisher.

Her tour was timed to take advantage of the SAT season. Yesterday thousands took the test at high schools all over Maryland. Thousands more will take it Dec. 7.

"Up Your Score" is one of dozens of books designed to prepare America's high-school seniors for the ordeal that many think will make or break the rest of their lives. Exler's advice is to lighten up a little: "It's not a measure of your worth as an individual or even of your intelligence. But colleges are using it, so you may as well get the highest score possible."

Exler did. We at The Sun called it a "perfect" score when we reported on Exler's achievement last February. Strict constructionists in our midst corrected us. You can get some items wrong on the SAT and still score 1,600, we were told. True enough, but it's still pretty amazing. How many kids do you know who scored a 1,600?

Exler came to Workman's attention after she interviewed "Up Your Score's" guest editor for the Jewish Times. Workman signed her up, says editor Margot Herrera, because "We felt she'd be on the ball, quick-witted and good. She was. It was also getting to be too boyish. It needed a female perspective."

Making changes

Exler agreed that "Up Your Score," an airy and contrarian look at the SAT that contrasts sharply with stodgy traditional guides, needed some work. She set about to make changes, using her 16-year-old brother Steven, who will take the test for real next spring, as a sounding board.

She made her own analysis of the vocabulary words suggested in the previous "Up Your Score" edition and replaced many of them, suggesting practice sentences "that were funnier than the old edition." "E.R." replaced "90210" as the TV show of note. After Clint Eastwood shed his tough-guy image in "The Bridges of Madison County," Exler replaced him with Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Exler also revised sections giving tips on how to prepare "the night before," what to do if you wake up sick on the morning of the SAT, "fashions" for taking the test and ways to sneak in forbidden snacks. There's a section on how to obtain scholarship money based on SAT scores. And Exler, a Jew, tells how to arrange to take the test on Sunday instead of on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

"Up Your Score," which has a Web site advertising Exler's appearances (, "is the only SAT guidebook written by students, for students, and which treats the SAT as a whole experience, not just verbal and math exercises and tips to guessing," Exler says.

Pikesville's star "guest editor," meanwhile, has enrolled at Brandeis University, one of six colleges to which she applied, but the school that gave her the most generous scholarship.

Exler says she's no star on the Waltham, Mass., campus, and she likes it that way. "I'm not that showy a person," she says. "My roommate knows, and my friends. But I don't go up to people and say, 'Hi, I'm Lisa, and I just guest-edited a book.' "

She's taking introduction to analyzing literature, astronomy, Hebrew and Jewish history. She says she hasn't decided on major.

Students at Brandeis have told her how much "Up Your Score" helped them with the SAT, she says, and "A guy at college told me he thought it was great. He said without it he never would have gotten into Brandeis."

Finding time

Workman allowed Exler considerable freedom in arranging her tours. She tried to schedule them on Tuesdays, the only day she doesn't have classes. But she needed more time last month to travel to the Midwest.

"I talked to my professors, and they were good about my being away. They were pretty impressed with what I was doing," she says.

Exler's parents, Emma and Jacob, went to the bookstores just to see their daughter's name on the shelves, their daughter says. "They got a few free books from the publisher, but they just wanted to see my name in a bookstore."

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