Study Claims SAT-Prep Programs Inconsequential

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Students who spend hundreds of dollars for courses preparing for the SAT don't get much for their money, research underwritten by the group that sponsors the test concludes.

The students who paid for tutors or commercially available preparation courses improved their scores only a little on the SAT I: Reasoning Test compared with those who studied on their own or took such classes in schools, according to the study commissioned by the College Board. The New York City-based organization sponsors the widely used college-entrance exam.

For More Information:

Copies of the study, "Effects of Coaching on SAT I: Reasoning Scores," and the companion study, "Preparing for the SAT I: Reasoning Test ­- An Update," are available from College Board Publications, Dept. Y34, Two College Way, Forrester Center, WV 25438. Credit card orders may be placed by calling operator Y34 at (800) 323-7155. The price for each is $15. Please include $4 for postage and handling if ordering one study, $5 for both studies.

On average, coaching programs increased students' verbal scores by 8 points and mathematics scores by 18 points, out of a possible 800 on each section, according to the study done by two researchers at the Educational Testing Service. Those gains were not significant, they say. The study also shows that more than a third of the students who had coaching saw their scores stay the same or decrease.

The Princeton, N.J.-based ets writes and administers the SAT for the College Board.

The two largest test-preparation companies in the country immediately denounced the results, saying the research was skewed to bolster the SAT program.

"The College Board is sending an unfair and damaging message to students," said Melissa Mack, a spokeswoman for Kaplan Educational Centers, a New York City-based chain of 160 centers that enrolls about 30,000 students a year for courses to prepare for the SAT. "You can improve your score on any test that requires the acquisition of skills."

"You've got to give some credit to the consumers," said Kevin N. McMullin, a spokesman for the Princeton Review. "Consumers aren't going to be spending that kind of time and money if they aren't seeing results." His firm, which is also based in New York, has 700 locations and enrolls 35,000 students in its six-week SAT course each year.

Estimates Too High?

Both Kaplan and the Princeton Review say students gain, on average, more than 100 points on their combined SAT scores. A perfect mark is 1600. Both companies offer courses that cost about $800.

The companies' estimates "are much too high," the ETS researchers conclude in "Effects of Coaching on SAT I: Reasoning Scores."

In an analysis of 4,200 SAT and Preliminary SAT scores, the researchers found that 12 percent of students increased their verbal scores by 100 points, and 16 percent raised their math scores by at least that amount. But the verbal scores of 36 percent of tutored students remained the same or fell, and 28 percent had the same or lower results on their math scores.

By comparison, 8 percent of students who didn't use expensive tutorials boosted their scores by 100 points on the verbal and math sections, according to the College Board study. Thirty-eight percent of them saw no improvement on the verbal section, it found, while 37 percent scored the same or lower on the math portion.

Vol. 18, Issue 14, Page 3

Published in Print: November 25, 1998, as Study Claims SAT-Prep Programs Inconsequential
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