Test Prep

Is The SAT Coachable?

The SAT has ruled the roost for as long as most of us can remember. You either love it or hate it. Most hate it. Count me among that demographic.

I used to do SAT prep. I started with my daughter and son and then branched out, including it as part of my comprehensive independent admissions counseling work. I was amazed at some of the improvements I saw in my students' scores. I said "some" because not all of them experienced a dramatic increase in their numbers. However, the simple fact that some did experience a remarkable increase answers the question posed in the title of this post. Yes, Virginia, the SAT is coachable.

So how should you think about your ability to possibly increase your SAT score? I received a thoughtful statement the other day from Mark Greenstein, founder of Ivy Bound Test Prep. I've cited Mark's words of wisdom here before. I like his approach to sharing insights about the SAT because his purpose is to educate rather than market his test prep service. Too many PR blurbs that I receive have not-so-subtle promotional agendas, so they end up on my slag pile.

Anyway, along the lines of the coachable SAT and with his permission, I'd like to share Mark's thoughts with you.

On “Gaming the System"

By Mark Greenstein, Founder of Ivy Bound Test Prep.

Parents and educators routinely post comments that SAT prep is "gaming the system". I happen to agree. But no student should feel guilty if her/his work is called "gaming". "Gaming" is simply making use of coaching to improve skills that are improvable.

Students who take advantage of SAT coaching improve their SAT skills as wholesomely as students who improve their athletic skills by listening to their team coaches. The "blockhead belief", that a mid-range student could not change his SAT scores and was thus "stuck" with that mid-range score, was disproven long ago (by Stanley Kaplan and other test prep pioneers).* Meekly following the "blockhead belief," thinking that your scores won't improve much, is stupid.

The stoic way of being "above coaching" is a LOSING way. SAT skills are valuable in their own right -- the SAT tests grammar, essay writing, reading skills, vocabulary, basic math, practical math, and resourceful math. The lone impractical element on the old SAT was "analogies," and the College Board rid the SAT of analogies in 2004. SAT coaching is abundant, and often less expensive than athletic coaching, so it's wise to take advantage of a good SAT coach.

Test prep firms are not helping students cheat. They help their students MASTER. Gaming is a good thing, especially where ingenuity is one of the very elements that colleges like seeing in applicants. Colleges embrace the SAT in part because the skills tested there reveal an element of "resourcefulness" that a transcript alone does not provide.

Highly ranked colleges' use of the SAT is one of the most meritocratic things possible for students. The SAT largely replaced the "primping, poise, and pedigree" that held sway up until the 1960s. The College Board makes the SAT eminently accessible to students with low financial means, and colleges bend over backwards to admit students from disadvantaged backgrounds if they possess strong SAT scores. When more educators banish the thought that SAT gaming is tawdry, they will help make the SAT the greatest democratizer in human history.**

*That the SAT is a coachable test is a fact; the days of the SAT being perceived as a test of innate intelligence are also long over.

**The rewards are also higher than ever. Students with good grades at top tier colleges have never had more opportunities for great work and great earnings in their 20s. In this current "recession," employment for those with four-year college degrees age 25 and over exceeds 96%. A top-30 university “pedigree" puts its grads on a course that likely results in lifetime earnings and wealth many times higher than those who graduate from a mid-tier college.


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