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1 in 9 Said To Use Private Coaching for S.A.T.

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Only one in nine high-school students uses outside coaching courses to prepare for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, but those who do so rate them as helpful in raising scores, according to a new survey by the College Board.

Most students use free or low-cost methods to prepare for the college-admissions test, the survey suggests, with an increasing number turning to special courses offered in their own high schools.

Almost half of the schools whose students participate in the test now offer some form of preparation course, the study found.

Though the College Board, which administers the sat, has viewed the coaching enterprise with disfavor, the growing selectivity of top colleges and universities has persuaded increasing numbers of parents and students to spend hundred of dollars to boost scores through private tutoring or courses offered by such commercial concerns as the Princeton Review and Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Centers.

In its study, the College Board surveyed a representative sample of high schools offering the sat and students who had taken it. Among the findings were the following:

Eleven percent of the students used test-preparation courses offered outside the school, spending a median of 21 hours on such activities. Fifteen percent attended a test-preparation program given in their schools.

While 72 percent of students had read the College Board's free informational booklet, "Taking the sat," many also reported going beyond that. Forty-one percent said they had used commercial test-preparation books, and 16 percent said they had used computer-software coaching aids.

Although the College Board does not recommend the coaching courses, most students who had used them said they believed the courses helped raise their scores on the tests of mathematics and verbal skills.

Fifty-one percent of those who took the outside courses said they helped "a lot" on the verbal portion of the test, while 30 percent said such courses helped at least some. Fifteen percent said they helped little and 4 percent were uncertain.

The students' ratings, the study points out, are based on personal impressions, and not on actual scores.

No other preparation method was rated as highly by students as the commercial coaching courses.

Familiarity or Higher Scores?

Among the high schools responding, 47 percent reported that they offered some form of sat preparation class. Half of the public schools and 38 percent of the private schools said they offered such classes. Most were offered as an extracurricular activity, although about 20 percent were provided for elective-course credit.

Most of the high-school programs were free; 24 percent charged fees ranging from $10 to $40.

The main objective of the high-school courses was to increase students' familiarity with the sat, according to the study, but three out of four schools listed the improvement of scores as a primary objective.

Many schools had developed their own instructional materials; others relied on books, practice tests, and audiovisual materials from the College Board or other organizations.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals, for example, offers books and videotapes to schools. These are intended, an official said, to improve the cognitive skills emphasized in the test.

"We are not so bold as to say to the schools, 'Use this program and improve your sat scores,"' said Thomas Koerner, an editor with nassp. "We're not teaching the test, we're teaching the skills."

However, a sales brochure for the materials is titled, "A Program to Improve sat Scores."

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