Families can spend thousands of dollars on coaching to help college-bound students boost their SAT scores. But a new report finds that these test-preparation courses aren't as beneficial as consumers are led to believe.
The report, to be released Wednesday by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, criticizes common test-prep-industry marketing practices, including promises of big score gains with no hard data to back up such claims. The report also finds fault with the frequent use of mock SAT tests because they can be devised to inflate score gains when students take the actual SAT. The association represents 11,000 college admissions officers, high-school guidance counselors and private advisors.
"It breaks my heart to see families who can't afford it spending money they desperately need on test prep when no evidence would indicate that this is money well-spent," says William Fitzsimmons, Harvard University's dean of undergraduate admissions, who led a group at the college admissions association that prompted the report.
Jonah Varon, a straight-A student at Lowell High School in San Francisco, took a mock SAT from a test-prep company last year and scored 2060 out of a possible 2400. A few weeks later, with no tutoring, he took the real test. His score: a perfect 2400, or 340 points higher.
Mr. Varon, who is headed to Harvard in the fall, was suspicious. The coaching company, Revolution Prep, of Santa Monica, Calif., says its mock tests are calibrated to be at the same difficulty level as the real SAT. So why had it seemed to the student so much harder?
After gathering test scores from 15 classmates who had had similar experiences, Mr. Varon wrote an article for his school newspaper claiming that the mock test was far more difficult — or was scored more harshly — than the actual exam to make Revolution Prep appear to be raising test scores more than it actually does.
"It seems like dishonest advertising," Mr. Varon says.
Revolution Prep says that the experiences of Mr. Varon and several of his classmates were "outliers," and that surveys of students at Lowell High School generally show high satisfaction with the test-coaching company's results.