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Published in Print: September 1, 2004, as Online Test-Preparation Habits Examined

Online Test-Preparation Habits Examined

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One of the largest studies to examine high school and college students’ online test-preparation habits found that they tend to spend more time doing vocabulary drills and word analogies than answering questions from reading passages, that they avoid math and science exercises, and that they wait until the last couple of weeks to begin studying.

That study pattern will be a problem for SAT-takers beginning next year, because analogies will be dropped, and more reading-comprehension and writing items will be added, according to Eric Loken, the lead researcher of the study, which was published in the August issue of the Journal of Educational ComputingResearch.

"We don’t know whether [those habits are] a symptom of how people use the Internet to study or the general inclination of what people do when they buy books, too," said Mr. Loken. "All the clicking may make you want to go through the quick and easy stuff, to power through it."

The study focused on 100,000 high school and post-high-school students who used www.number2.com, a free test-preparation service, before taking the SAT, the ACT, or the Graduate Record Examination, the admissions test that many graduate programs require.

The students, who had to register and log in to use the service, were monitored between Dec. 8, 2001, and Dec. 8, 2002, about their visits to the different content areas, whether they completed tutorials, and how they performed on the practice items.

The ability to track the use of the site gave researchers insight that they don’t get when students use test-preparation books and courses, said Mr. Loken, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.

About 55,000 of the students examined in the study were preparing for the SAT, 22,000 for the ACT, and 26,000 for the GRE. Students getting ready for the ACT and SAT tended to use the site most actively within two weeks of the national test dates.

Fewer than 30 percent of the SAT and GRE students attempted any math questions. Only 20 percent attempted any reading-comprehension exercises even though those questions account for half the total verbal score on the tests.

The ACT is the only test that includes science questions, but only 20 percent of high school students planning to take the ACT practiced for the science section.

Profiling Test-Takers

"There are basically three types of students: a group that wasn’t going to answer any question, a group that would answer both math and verbal, and a big group in the middle that could be pushed one way or another by order of presentation," Mr. Loken said.

Mr. Loken and the other researchers—Filip Radlinski of Cornell University, Vincent H. Crespi of Penn State, Josh Millet of XAP Corp., and Lesleigh Cushing of Colgate University— were the original developers of the online test-preparation service, which is now owned by the Culver City, Calif.-based XAP.

Vol. 24, Issue 1, Page 16

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