Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The SAT Prep Game

A few folks commented on the "Are 5% or 10% Gifted?" thread about the wisdom of giving people a previous year's version of a test before an assessment. Is it a good idea or not? Some worry it could affect results; others point out that savvy folks will always find a prep copy of a test, so best to give it to everyone.

There's no doubt that familiarity with a test format -- and studying material that will specifically be on a test -- can raise scores. I was thinking about that when I came across this item from Wired News on a new SAT Prep video game. (As they point out, with a market this big, what took so long?) A few years ago, I received a review copy of one of the first of a new genre of SAT Prep novels (see this link for the SparkNotes version; lots of companies do these now). SAT vocabulary words are spaced throughout the book, with definitions in footnotes, so you learn while reading. Of course, kids have always learned new words by reading, but this satisfies that parental urge to make sure no time is wasted learning unimportant words... (sigh).

Anyway, there's no doubt that a kid who plays the SAT prep video game, and reads the SAT prep books, and takes a Kaplan course, will have some advantage over someone with no familiarity with the test. But here's something to think about: the vast, vast majority of people who use these aids do not score a perfect 2400 on the SAT (that number still looks weird to me, I still think in terms of 1600!)

Why not? If the test can be gamed through these tools, why doesn't everyone ace it?

The reality is that -- for all the prepping -- tests like the SAT still measure your ability to solve problems quickly when faced with new information. Even if you've seen 1000 math problems before, you haven't seen this exact one. You haven't seen this exact reading passage, so you haven't been asked these specific questions. For all their flaws, standardized tests still measure your ability to synthesize information and think on your feet.

For this reason, I don't think the test prep industry changes things as much as it might - either for the SAT, or for other tests. The fairest thing to do is probably just what NYC did -- make sure everyone has a copy, and then see what happens.


Anonymous said...

“But here's something to think about: the vast, vast majority of people who use these aids do not score a perfect 2400 on the SAT”

True. But I would guess that the vast majority who score perfectly on the SAT or ACT have utilized test prep options.

Anonymous said...

Most serious students don't use silly games and books that just divert them from their core goal. Most serious students are using private agencies like Advantage or online companies like Prepme these days.

DrBurst| College Intention said...

@ Anonymous. Do you think students are robots. We do need a break once in a while. I can see the value of having a game prep ystem. furtheremore, a DS is easier to wipe out then a book. allowing for prep during bus rides. All and any prep is of value. The SAT is just a long grind.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I suspect that most of the students getting the really top scores in SAT do almost no prep. The tests are quite easy for the smartest students, and the prep work really only helps kids in the middle of the range.

Michelle said...

One of the biggest things about showing children these tests and sitting them down to practice with them, is the actual preparation of doing the test itself, regardless of what the questions are.

There is no doubt that getting an understanding of the types of questions is a good thing... but HOW to answer and HOW to conduct yourself during the test, is where the most benefit is gained.

In this regard Gifted Kids are no different from the average student.

Gifted Parent Educator

Anonymous said...

I really must wonder. Why prep at all? Test cold and you'll really see who the gifted kids are.

You can't prevent all the test hype and preparation mania. But I wish we could. Because when a kid hires a private tutor and preps and preps and preps, what are we truly measuring? To me, all that prep defeats the entire purpose. Are we assessing how well a student can take a test or their aptitude?

An ode to all those PG 2e kids who can ace a test without preparing! But their grades are something else entirely. The test is the feather in their cap.

Kevin said...

If the purpose of a test is to predict who will do well in a particular program, then the test should be related to the content of the program. If the program expects kids to spends hours studying for each assignment, then a test which one does better on by doing hours of test prep is appropriate.

Of course, for most gifted programs, this sort of test is not a good fit to the content.

Anonymous said...

Kevin wrote:

If the program expects kids to spends hours studying for each assignment, then a test which one does better on by doing hours of test prep is appropriate.


I see your point but I disagree. Yes, the gifted program for which the student is attempting to test into would be rigorous so your thinking goes, apply rigor to test preparation.

I'd rather see how these kids do cold. I'm measuring for aptitude, critical thinking skills. My daughter took the SAT in 7th grade as a 12 year old for continued CTY (Johns Hopkins University, Center for Talented Youth) eligibility. She did not prep. She didn't have time, too much school homework. Our family played a ten minute analogy game the night before and that was the sum total of all the prep.

Daughter did even better on the geometry portion than the algebra. She'd not yet taken geometry at this point, that was coming up next. She still did very well. For her, the test measured how she applied her accumulated knowledge and critical thinking to completely new problem solving.

I suppose her score might have been higher had she prepped. But it was cool getting a raw baseline of what she could do without all that test prep.

As said, you can't stop the test prep mania. But I know kids who take that test every month in 7th grade, prepping endlessly for each. To me, that's hothousing. You either have it or you don't. CTY's Talent Search is looking for those kids who are several years above grade level.

My daughter doesn't spend hours studying for each assigment in school. Sadly, she doesn't have time. She's EG/PG 2e and her homework alone takes hours and hours. There's no time left for test study. I wish there was. I tell her, get a good night's rest and you'll do better on the test without studying than staying up late to cram. I'm usually right!