May 26, 2010

Is There any Truth to Test-Prep Claims?

How much will your SAT scores go up after spending big $$ on test-prep?

(A) 15 to 30 points combined Critical Reading and Math
(B) 255 points if you use Princeton Review’s “Ultimate Classroom” course
(C) 100-150 points
(D) 0 points because it’s just not possible
(E) The sky's the limit

If you answered (A), you’re probably right according to the Arlington-based National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Based on a study conducted by NACAC, test-prep courses have a minimal impact on improving SAT scores—about 10 to 20 points on average in Math and 5 to 10 points in Critical Reading.

Of course that’s not what the test-prep industry wants you to believe. One Fairfax-based company prominently displays a website guarantee that “you will improve at least 100 points on actual tests” and directs readers to testimonials on supporting web pages promoting improvements of between 290 and 300 points.

Another company offering classes in Fairfax and across the river in Rockville posts a 300 point score increase guarantee—provided you pay for the “full-length” SAT course. A slightly less expensive class only guarantees a 200 point increase.

How are these guarantees achieved? Sometimes the service will use PSAT scores as a starting point and basis of comparison—even if the student has taken the SAT once and already has higher scores. Other companies administer unrealistically difficult “diagnostic” tests, and the scores from these tests will be used to determine how much improvement has been achieved.

Luckily the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has stepped in to police test-prep ads and recently announced that the Princeton Review would “voluntarily discontinue certain advertising claims.” This came following a charge by Kaplan, Inc., a competing player in the test-prep industry, that the methodology used to calculate score improvements for the Princeton Review’s “Ultimate Classroom” course was invalid.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing thinks most test-prep companies “grossly exaggerate the claims on how much test scores rise on average.” Although he welcomes the announcement from the Council of Better Business Bureaus, he’s still concerned that “everyone else in the coaching business remains free to fabricate score gain claims and promote them to the hilt.” Nevertheless, his own studies have shown that improvements are possible with good coaching—as much as 100 to 150 points in some cases.

The College Board acknowledges that on average, students who take the SAT test twice increase their scores by about 30 points.” There is no evidence to indicate that taking the exam more than twice increases score performance.

By the way, the actual average SAT scores are 501 for Critical Reading, 515 for Math, and 493 in Writing. The highest score possible is 800 on any one of the three sections.

1 comment:

  1. Test-prep courses are extremely useful in the preparation for the written test, not only for becoming accustomed to a police mindset, but also for becoming accustomed to reading a situation carefully and completely during the exam.