Are private S.A.T. Coaching Courses Warranted?
By Cliff & Sami Kramon of Collegiate Choice
As independent college advisors, we are frequently asked about the benefits and need for taking private test preparation courses. These can be costly, but if scores can be raised significantly, the reasoning goes, the added expense might be justified. After all, Kaplan Education Centers claim the average Kaplan score increase is 120 points from the P.S.A.T. to the S.A.T. while Princeton Review advertises a typical increase of 140 points. Some independent test coaches doubtless claim similar results.
An extensive article in the November 24, 1998, New York Times discusses a report titled "Effects of Coaching on SAT 1: Reasoning Scores" written by Donald E. Powers, a research scientist at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ (which the College Board hires to administer the S.A.T.), and Donald A. Rock, an educational consultant.
The major finding reported was that the typical coached test taker increased his or her total score by 69 points while the uncoached test taker increased it by 43 points. Important to note, however, is that the "uncoached" category does not mean that students walked into the S.A.T. cold, but that their practice did not include paid after-school coaching.
We think that’s the key. Individual preparation through the taking of sample tests and the following of "strategies" provided by The College Board, Kaplan, or Princeton Review’s inexpensive publications or CDs is crucial for maximum individual success. So it comes down to this. If a student is self-motivated enough to take the practice tests and learn the test taking techniques provided by these publications, outside support may not be warranted. On the other hand, if a student needs the structure and encouragement of a "coach," we think some expense can be justified. The worst situation is unquestionably to go in with no preparation at all.
Lastly, one should remember that scholarships like the National Merit are based on P.S.A.T. scores, so consider this when scheduling your practice. Keep in mind, too, that the P.S.A.T. takes 2 hours and 10 minutes, significantly shorter than the S.A.T. Just like a runner, the best practice is on the appropriate course.