Recent news about major changes to the SAT hit just as I was boarding a plane home from a business trip. I took advantage of my time in the air to read up on the media reaction to this announcement. My ultimate take, despite what is asserted in the New York Times, is that these changes help the test prep industry hone in on how best to help students do well on the SAT, which will in turn help test prep become even more reliable in terms of results.
For example, since the reading passages now can be more accurately predicted, tutors can prep kids specifically for those pieces. If the College Board is limiting the number of vocabulary words, tutors may direct students to study a few hundred rather than a few thousand. If they are focusing the math section by narrowing the amount of topics covered, that also helps the tutors concentrate their efforts.
Parents are not going to easily give up the dream that prep can help their kids, and a more specific and limited test may mean that test prep itself might actually get better and require less time and money. Companies like Revolution Prep and Advantage Testing, with in-house curriculum specialists who study the test and know it inside and out, will be at a real advantage. A company that does no training and relies instead on their tutors to simply know the test will have to ask those individuals to get up to speed on their own, a distinct disadvantage.
The Times article also notes that Khan Academy, a free online resource available to all, worked directly with the College Board to develop their prep materials and will have sample questions available on their website. This certainly helps the test prep industry, because the site essentially gives all companies the CliffsNotes on what their new programs should look like. It also allows kids who couldn’t afford test prep to access some high quality—and likely very clear and focused—test prep for free. If Khan Academy adds in practice questions, as they have for other topics on their site, it could be very powerful for a bright and motivated student who does not need someone to guide them through the process.
In the end that may help to level the playing field a little. My prediction: we will start to see even higher scores on the SAT across the board, similar to what happened when the College Board “re-centered” scores back in the mid-90s. This is a result that high schools, colleges, parents and students will all like.
A far bigger ancillary benefit to these changes, and something I think the College Board is hoping for, is a shift in perception from the idea that the ACT is less difficult than the SAT, to the sense that they are equivalent—or even that the SAT is the easier test. This helps the SAT regain the market share they’ve lost over time. The College Board’s hope for this outcome is strengthened if the test prep industry figures out a better way to help students prepare for, and perform well on, the SAT.