New SAT won’t kill test prep

However the SAT is changed, test prep isn’t going anywhere, writes James S. Murphy, an SAT tutor, in The Atlantic.

David Coleman, the president of College Board, thinks companies that offer SAT prep services are “predators who prey on the anxieties of parents and children and provide no real educational benefit.”

It’s not the test prep companies that make students anxious, writes Murphy. It’s the test.

Although more schools than ever are making SAT scores optional for application, good test prep will remain important as long as high-stakes, time-constrained, multiple-choice exams are being used to determine who gets admitted to the most selective colleges and universities. Since most of the metrics these colleges use to determine who to accept are based on indelible aspects of a person’s identity or long-term accomplishments like GPA and extracurricular activities, it would be foolish for a student not to try to improve the one thing that can be improved in a relatively short amount of time.

Tricks don’t make much difference, he argues.

Test prep raises scores by reviewing only the content students need to know for the exam, teaching them techniques they have not learned in school, and assigning students hundreds if not thousands of practice questions. It is this work, and not tricks, that overcome test anxiety. As Ed Carroll, a former colleague of mine, puts it, “Competence breeds confidence.”

College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, which will offer free SAT test prep online. That validates the test prep companies’ contention that test prep is helpful.

SAT correlates with family income because more-educated and affluent parents  develop their children’s vocabularies and general knowledge, pay for homes near good public schools or pay for private school tuition, hire tutors if their kids need help in elementary, middle and high school, etc. The advantage is huge long before the student thinks about how to prep for the SAT.

If you don’t have a clue, guess. The new SAT eliminates the penalty for wrong answers, observes Walt Hickey on FiveThirtyEight. That adds “noise” to the results.

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  1. Some further thoughts on this, and why the SAT won’t be “easier,” even if it is “more relevant”:

  2. Miller Smith says:

    Higher income is not what creates better vocab in children. Higher income is a result of higher intelligence and being at least 70% genetic it should be no surprise that children of high income parents do very well. This fact has been well known for near 100 years…but it is very very politically incorrect.

  3. Interesting logic; the new SAT is supposed to need less coaching, but has a deal with Khan Academy to provide free coaching.

  4. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Here’s the rub:

    Let’s say that everyone gets their free, high quality prep course, everyone gets a good education, and everyone takes the magic pill that makes all test anxiety go away.

    Everything is in place for EVERYONE to do well on the test.

    And let’s say, in this utopian world, that 50% of the students get 1600’s, and the other 50% get 1450 or higher.

    The College Board’s SAT division will go out of business overnight, because no college is going to CARE about these scores.

    The test is only useful so long as there is a wide range of scores. That means designing a test that yields a wide range of scores.

    That means competition. Much like the competition for jobs, real estate, schools, social status, and everything else in society.

    That means the people with more resources (economic, social, cultural, etc.) are going to win, more often than not. Maybe they win because of the resources, or maybe the resources and the victory share some other cause or group of causes. I don’t know and I don’t care.

    But I do care that, in general, winners tend to win. That’s what makes them winners. And when you have a test that, structurally, MUST have winners and losers, guess what?

    Winners are going to tend to win.