Thursday, July 30, 2015

How to Save Money On SAT/ACT Test Preparation

Welcome!  Another round of financial literacy this fine Wednesday morning begins with a little trip down memory lane…

It was 1993 and I was a junior in high school.  I had made the decision to attend college, carrying a 3.3 G.P.A at the time.  I rode the bus to the main public library (M.L.K) in downtown San Jose several weekends prior to SAT test day, and read several of the free Kaplan workbooks that were available there.  You know, the ones with sample test questions that have the answers at the end.  I must have tried at least 4 or 5 sample tests, and the results were always the same for me.  Mediocre.  I had no idea what it took to score well on the SAT, other than being some sort of genius and knowing all the answers.  "You can't study for it," people would tell me.  "Either you know it or you don't."  Well that was a bunch of b.s.

Pic of me in HS.  Early 1994.

The first time I took the SAT I barely broke 900 (back when 1600 was a perfect score).  I was able to try again months later, but this time I had help preparing for the English component.  My English 11 honors teacher had given us commonly used SAT word lists to memorize.  (Remember, English is my second language so this was very helpful at the time).  I scored 1024 the second time out, and had enough on my resume to get accepted to several universities.  I opted for junior college instead, where the SAT or ACT for that matter, wasn't even needed.

Sometime around the late nineties, the business of test preparation started to become mainstream.  I was hearing about Kaplan Saturday classes, and private SAT tutors to help improve outcomes for teens.  The rich kids were the ones paying for these more so than the inner city ones.  With each subsequent year, the stakes (getting accepted) became more competitive, and the need to learn the tricks of the test was indispensable.  Look at things today.  SAT/ACT test preparation is a multibillion-dollar industry.  The number of test prep centers more than doubled from 1998 to 2012 to over 11,000 today in 2015.  What has not changed is who can afford to get a tutor, or take weekend SAT prep classes...that is still a fixture in American society: the "haves" can; the "have-nots" cannot.

The test preparation industry is a racket!  You know it, I know it.  Even if you can afford to get your teen a private tutor or classes, you are paying for a service that helps someone learn testing tricks at most.  These services aren't helping your teen actually get smarter!  That's what 11+ years of schooling was for.  Here's a quote from a tutor:

 Linsea Mohr. “As a tutor, I see myself more as a puzzle decoder. I just show students how to arrive at the answer the most expediently and then they fly solo.”

Here's a comment left at the Motley Fool's: The SAT Gamble: Are High Prep Costs...

There are tutors in NYC that can correctly answer 99% of the questions on the verbal section of the SAT just by looking at the answers as they know exactly how the College Board creates the test, and they are more than willing to teach you all the tricks. 

As an educator, my take is this:  If your teen wants to go to a top university, and you can afford it, then pay for the test prep service.  It is worth it in my estimation.  I would rather you, however, encourage your teen to do what I will be recommending next.

SAT & College Admissions

Stop being part of the racket! 

There is an alternative to this decision-making dilemma many folks are burdened by.  It's called a boycott.  There are many great institutions of higher learning where submitting an SAT/ACT is optional.  Many of you may not have known that.  Here is an ongoing list of all of the universities that don't require an SAT/ACT score: List.  *Note: Make sure you determine if scholarships require an SAT/ACT score.

Just two days ago, George Washington University, a private university in D.C. became one of the largest and most prestigious schools to ditch admissions tests.  Take that College Board!  This is a huge shake-up, not to mention, it is highly controversial in the world of education.  GWU did not do this to impact the test prep industry, of course, rather, it did so to encourage first-generation college applicants, minorities, students with learning disabilities, and women to apply.  In other words, they are following the latest research that claims a student's G.P.A. is more of a predictor of success, than is a score on a high-stakes test like the SAT.

Do you agree with this move by GWU?  Do you think other prestigious institutions will soon follow GWU's lead?  What will this mean for the test prep industry?

The cost of attending college begins to accrue in high school, not college, as many parents with good intentions shell out money for their kids to get SAT prep.  We are at the perfect place in time to stop being complicit in the crime of paying for expensive test prep services that do nothing more than help our children become test "gamers."  It begins with You!

Until next time!  C-los...out!  

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