The Princeton Review announced May 12 that it would “voluntarily”- in the face of an accuracy in advertising challenge launched by the National Advertising Division of the Council of the Better Business Bureau- cease claiming that its courses can boost SAT scores by 255 points. Competitor Kaplan initiated this challenge. Princeton Review’s alleged tactics of comparing a pretest created by the company to a post test is not reflective of the true value of an SAT test prep course or coaching, according to experts studying the subject
As soon as a high school student signs up to take the SAT, the phone calls from SAT prep courses start coming. My family recently learned this first hand when -despite being on the national do not call registry- I started answering calls allegedly solicited by my teenage son by checking off some box on some form relating to the SAT. I asked my son whether he had requested SAT test prep course information and he told me that he might have checked off some box allowing people to send him information. If you’re a parent, you’ll understand this lack of specificity provided by a high school student who wasn’t paying too much attention to the SAT check off boxes.
The college board website indicates that its student search service check off box leads to the College Board providing information only to nonprofits, so how exactly I started receiving telephone solicitations from for-profit test prep companies allegedly “requested by” my son when signing up to take the SAT remains a mystery. One thing I did note is that the callers hung up quickly when told I was suspicious of how they got our information and that my son has no interest in, or judging by his scores need for, taking a test prep course.
With elite college admissions absurdly competitive, many a family wonders if an SAT prep course or coaching will give their son or daughter and edge in taking the SAT. Or is making a significant layout for an SAT prep course or coaching merely lining the pockets of principals in a $4 billion industry?
The College Board maintains that paid coaching and test prep is of marginal significance in raising SAT scores. The National Association for College Admission Counseling 2009 report on SAT test prep demonstrated that the investment yields only a 5-10 point difference in critical reading SAT scores and a 10-20 point difference in math SAT scores. This conclusion was based on 3 large scale studies of the effects of coaching on test scores. Previous studies documented up to 30 point gains; however many of the earlier studies were methodologically flawed, according to NACAC.
The Powers and Rock analysis involving a stratified random sample of 3311 students in 1995-1996 concluded that commercial coaching increased SAT verbal scores 8 points and math scores 18 points, a statistically significant but small change. One unnamed prominent company’s coaching was found in this study to raise math scores 33 points. An earlier study by Briggs produced similar results, finding that SAT test prep increased test results by 8 points in reading and 15 points in math.
Is this small positive increase in test scores worth the investment in a commercial test prep course or costly individualized coaching?
Studies show that in a substantial minority of cases, small increases in SAT scores may influence college admissions decisions but the effect is observed primarily for students who have already attained above-average scores before signing up for commercial test prep or coaching.
Testing experts advise college admissions officials not to place much emphasis on such small score differentials, noting that a 20 point score difference might reflect measurement error, differential access to coaching or both.
Sources: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iU1mdzH1rQKgyx5GIWcWMxExqj1QD9FP97NG0; http://www.nacacnet.org/News/Newsfeed/Pages/Article.aspx?id=I109483552&type=News; http://www.nacacnet.org/PublicationsResources/Research/Documents/TestPrepDiscussionPaper.pdf.