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The College Board Now Recommends an SAT Prep Course (Their Own)

Since its founding in the early 1950’s, the College Board has held that test prep courses don’t boost scores on its SAT exam significantly enough to justify their time and expense. The Board stated in 1955 that, “If the Board’s test can be regularly beaten through coaching, then the Board is itself discredited.” In other words, the purpose of the SAT is to provide for a fair comparison of readiness for college. Therefore, wealthy students were to have no advantage over those of lesser means.

Despite the Board’s position, a large and profitable test prep industry has flourished through the decades because data indicated that prep courses did in fact improve scores. Test prep companies like Signet, Kaplan, Princeton Review, and Compass Prep and many others emphasize substantial average increases in test scores.

A 2010 study of the efficacy of test prep courses by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) found that these courses do increase scores, but more modestly than the increases claimed by the course providers themselves. NACAC summarized their findings as follows:

“The existing academic research base indicates that, on average, test preparation efforts yield a positive but small effect on standardized admission test scores. Contrary to the claims made by many test preparation providers of large increases of 100 points or more on the SAT, research suggests that average gains are more in the neighborhood of 30 points.”

Recently, after decades of maintaining the opposite, the College Board has announced that a SAT prep course can improve scores. However, the Board’s announcement identifies only the Kahn Academy’s SAT prep program, with which the Board is affiliated, as a reliable source of score-improving training. The Board’s joint press release with Khan Academy this past May touts significant score improvements right in the opening statement:

“New data show that studying for the SAT® for 20 hours on free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average score gain of 115 points, nearly double the average score gain compared to students who don’t use Khan Academy. Out of nearly 250,000 test takers studied, more than 16,000 gained 200 points or more between the PSAT/NMSQT® and SAT.”

The Board’s findings are based on the results of the first full year that the revised SAT has been in use. College Board President David Coleman notes that Khan’s online SAT prep is free and that students who use it achieve substantial increases in score. He stated that, “In addition to the 115-point average score increase associated with 20 hours of practice, shorter practice periods also correlate with meaningful score gains. For example, 6–8 hours of practice on Official SAT Practice is associated with an average 90-point increase”.

Khan Academy is a suitable resource for SAT prep as well as for the other test prep programs that they offer (MCAT (medical school admission), GMAT (MBA admission), LSAT (law school admission), and NCLEX-RN (national nursing certification). These test prep programs coexist with the hundreds of other online courses that are offered by Khan in many academic disciplines. The courses are intended as learning tools to reinforce, but not replace, the classroom work in which students are engaged from kindergarten through college. The Academy has positioned itself as a supplemental tool to aid classroom learning. Courses are free because Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization, heavily funded by donations from philanthropic, corporate, and public entities such as AT&T, Google, the U.S. Dept. of Education, and the Gates, Slim, and O’Sullivan foundations.

That the College Board should promote Khan as the only qualified SAT prep provider is a concern within the test prep community. About three years ago, the College Board approached Khan with a proposal to offer SAT prep online in time to be released with the launch of the revised SAT. The intention was to negate the advantage of wealth by providing an opportunity to take a free SAT prep course to those students who couldn’t afford expensive alternatives.

The status of Khan Academy as the Board’s favorite among test prep providers persists. David Coleman, in an interview with the New York Times, “…referred to some test-prep providers as predators who prey on the anxieties of parents and children and provide no real educational benefit.” Dr. Coleman called Khan’s SAT prep program a “bad day” for predators. It’s no wonder that the other providers of prep courses find the Board’s position objectionable.

As a college admissions consulting firm, IvySelect helps assess your SAT scores in the context of admission to an Ivy League or other top-tier school. We remind students that they’re free to use any means they wish to help raise their scores, whether it’s a top line prep provider, a review book with sample exams, a tutor or coach, a free program like Khan’s, or any combination of these. Should you wish, though, we are able to direct you to excellent private standardized test prep companies that have helped many of our students raise their scores dramatically.

IvySelect’s college admissions services benefit all students who aspire to attend a top-tier institution. Families hire us for our in-depth knowledge of the admission process at each of these schools. IvySelect specializes in identifying and cultivating the best of what a student has to offer to their colleges of choice.